Boeing seeks to address F/A-18 problems, ease Canadian anxieties

Oliver Austin


Image: Tony Hisgett

Boeing has had to reassure Canadian officials over recent complaints from US Navy pilots over apparent oxygen deprivation and cockpit pressure loss during flights of several F/A-18 Super Hornets.

According to the published figures, 31 incidents (per 100,000 flying hours) were recorded from November 2015 to October 2016, three times that of the frequency reported in 2010-11.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Boeing vice-president of global sales Roberto Valla said Canadian officials raised the issue with the company but that Boeing's "commitment to work with the United States Navy to resolve this matter is an unwavering commitment.”

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Last month saw a letter of request (LOR) issued by the Canadian government to the US for the procurement of 18 of the aircraft as the process moves forward to replace the Royal Canadian Air Force's ageing CF-18 fighter fleet. 

Canadian Defence Minister Harjit S. Sajjan stated that assessment over whether an interim purchase of a fleet of 18-strong Super Hornets will “help to ensure Canada remains credible and dependable” as an ally to its international partners until a final decision is made on the permanent replacement aircraft.

However, following the announcement, 13 former RCAF commanders wrote a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling for him to reconsider the interim contract and to instead push the permanent jet fighter competition forward. 

Currently, there remains uncertainty over whether to proceed with a much-debated purchase of F-35s. In the meantime, the CF-18 fleet, at over 30 years old, has been reduced from its initial 138 to 77.

For the United States, stormclouds remain gathered around discussions of its future naval fleet, with officials standing by plans to welcome in the F-35 fleet in spite of repeared criticism from President Trump over the joint strike fighter's cost overruns and a supplemental budget request from the President's desk for 24 additional E/F Super Hornets.

Following Trump's public request to Boeing to "price-out" a comparable F/A-18 option (Dec 22), the company is understood to be mounting an attempt to put itself back into competition, arguing that the F-35C fleet will not address existing capability gaps.

As it stands, the Navy still plans to procure two squadrons of Boeing’s F/A-18 and two squadrons of Lockheed Martin’s F-35C variant, which can take off and land on the deck of an aircraft carrier.

Lt. Gen. Christopher C. Bogdan, the USN's F-35 Program Executive Officer, told Defense News in recent weeks that the service "needs fifth-generation airplanes and they need some fourth-generation airplanes, and they need them soon. So what I think you're going to see the Navy do is buy as many F-35Cs as they can afford, and maybe supplement that with as many other things as they can afford. But they just need airplanes."