VICTORIA, British Columbia — Canada’s purchase of used F-18 aircraft from Australia will do nothing to boost the combat capability of its fighter jet fleet, as it would still lack pilots and technicians, and the current fleet of planes have not seen improvements for years, according to a Canadian watchdog report.

Canada currently operates a fleet of CF-18 fighters but is lacking in a plan to modernize those aircraft for modern warfare, reads the report released Tuesday by Auditor General Michael Ferguson.

"Flying the CF-18 until 2032 without a plan to upgrade combat capability will result in less important roles for the fighter force and will pose a risk to Canada’s ability to contribute to NORAD and NATO operations,” the report says, using an acronym for the North American Aerospace Defense Command. “Without combat upgrades, the CF-18 will be less effective against adversaries in domestic and international operations.”

Canada is also in the process of buying used F-18s from Australia to supplement the existing fleet of CF-18s, but Ferguson’s report notes that acquisition will not fix the fundamental weaknesses with the CF-18 fleet, mainly the aircraft’s declining combat capability and the shortage of personnel to fly and maintain those planes.

Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said Tuesday the federal government will look at the possibility of adding new weapons and defensive systems for the CF-18s, but he did not provide specific details. He also said the used F-18 fighter jets to be purchased from Australia will be modernized, but again he did not provide specific details.

Sajjan said the federal government gave direction in 2016 to the Canadian military to recruit more pilots and improve retention of aircrews and maintainers, but such a process takes time.

Canada expects to accept bids in May 2019 for a new fleet of 88 fighter jets that will eventually replace the CF-18s and the used Australian aircraft. Potential aircraft in the competition include Lockheed Martin’s F-35, the Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab’s Gripen and the Boeing Super Hornet.


David Pugliese is the Canada correspondent for Defense News.

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