features RCAF: Fifth-Gen fighter jet transformation

Far more than a fighter replacement program for the CF-18 Hornet, the F-35A represents a generational capability change for the RCAF. A former ‘Hornet Baby’ and F-35 test pilot shares some key lessons.
Avatar for Billie Flynn By Billie Flynn | March 7, 2024

Estimated reading time 1 minute, 48 seconds.

The Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II will be landing at Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) fighter squadrons sooner than many realize. The urgency to have infrastructure, personnel, and procedures to manage this new era of capability is ramping up.

The almost 10-year delay caused by political wrangling has in many ways benefitted the RCAF and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Instead of the original 65 jets requested by the Harper government, 88 F-35s are on order.

The CF-188 Hornet has served in the Royal Canadian Air Force since 1982. Derek Heyes Photo

Instead of a mix of early block F-35s, Canada will receive the most advanced version of the Block 4 fighter, including the Sidekick modification that allows the aircraft to carry six air-to-air missiles internally rather than the four-missile capability that had been the case with earlier blocks. Instead of paying more than US$100 million per fighter, the initial price will be less than US$80 million. 

Most importantly, as the 1,000th F-35 flies this year, everything about the program has matured. The F-35 is well understood, a vastly different situation than was the case a decade ago when Canada originally planned to buy the fighter. As a Lockheed Martin F-35 test pilot, I would have flown the first Canadian designated fighter years ago. Time has benefited the F-35 enterprise and much of the controversy surrounding the program has since abated. Canada chose the right fighter to defend this country and its interests around the world.

Continue reading this feature article in RCAF Today magazine.

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  1. Avatar for Billie Flynn
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    1. I’m glad that you live such a sheltered existence that you don’t feel the need for Defence. Must be nice to be so naïve and take everything for granted. Especially the freedom you enjoy that is guarded every single day and you don’t even need to care.

  1. We should buy the F15XL. 2 engines, Mach 2.5, Gen 5.5, way better than the F35 dingle engine. We need speed and range to patrol the Arctic regions, not the cheapest F35 that can’t catch a Russian T60.
    BTW our “new” arctic patrol vessels can’t float and take in water. Pathetic

    1. Sorry. The F15XL would be a 4.5 Gen aircraft, not 5.5. The 15XL has no stealth capability and is significantly slower at cruise speeds (no supercruise). Under standard load out the F15XL has shorter range and would require additional tanks to extend its range. However, with these tanks, it get even slower at cruise, so would take longer to reach its targets.

    2. I agree 100%. It seems our military commanders are either out of touch with the reality here or they are corrupt and giving “sales” to good old buddies. Enough! We need real people in charge! Not the latest most popular transsexuals! This is survival. Get it through your woke heads! China is focused and I will bet before the end of April Taiwan will be under attack or taken. I have always had complete respect for our military until this Democrat machine of Freaks and Frauds got placed into office.

    3. Why not both (F-35 and F-15 latest generation)… I believe this year we have a GDP of more than 2200 billion dollars, increasing by 4 or 5% each year…. For 40 million ‘residents ? Our army should be at least x3 in capacity. We rely too much on our neighbors.

    1. We should have optioned for the latest block version of the F-18 Super Hornet when we had the chance.

    2. Ummm…. He actually says right there there he is a LM test pilot. He’s not hiding anything.

  2. Good to hear.. peace through strength.
    We have commitments with our Allies and we see thugs around the world land grabbing. Is a start to get our military into the 21 century

  3. Given the money involved, the Cdn government should simply buy out the entire SAAB fighter corp. At least make a joint venture with them. This is a toy for pilots and large multinational corporations rather than effective defence.

    1. I agree we should of chosen the latest griffin over anything the yanks can offer not only for our military but also for the partnership with Saab with technology sharing and future development. The deal with Saab would of ment major jobs for us Canucks and money for our economy! Also I will add it would put us back into a theater we are already proven in and one we Canadians are very good at on a level no country or educated person could deny. It’s my firm belief if we had made that deal it’s likely in the next decade Saab Canada could easily be producing 6th gen + multi role hyper stealth fighters that would eat a super f35 for lunch not a doubt in my mind … maybe once Trudeau loose the next election we will end up with a common sense leader that will make smart choices for our people and country …. Conservative all the way!!!

  4. The Lockheed Martin F-35A Joint Strike Fighter(JSF) is a strike aircraft designed mainly to bomb targets deep into enemy territory. As such it is unsuitable for the RCAF whose primary role is the defence of the Canadian airspace. Furthermore, its operational and sustainment costs are so high that, according to Canada Parliamentary Budget Officer, the RCAF will reduce its usage. This to stay within annual budget, but at the expense of pilot proficiency.
    Skies readers will recall prime minister Trudeau pledge not to purchase the JSF based on the above plus technical problems. Indeed, 17 years after its first flight, as cited in US DOD Director of Test and Evaluation latest report, the F-35 is still plagued by a multitude of ”additional discoveries of deficiencies”. Given the Saab Gripen E multirole fighter meets all requirements at one third the total cost and can be made in Canada, acquisition of 88 JSF is wrong as it would burden Canadian taxpayers unnecessarily. Therefore, Ottawa should limit its purchase to the current lot of 16 aircraft for the air-to-ground role that fits the JSF design. However, air-to-air accounts for 80% of RCAF fighter aircraft usage such as defensive counter air including intercept missions. As Gripen E performance is superior to that of JSF in those missions, it should then make up the remaining of the fleet with 72 aircraft. It is estimated that such a mixed fleet would result in a $50 billions saving over thirty years. Accounting for inflation, this saving would likely double.

  5. Could an F-35 defend itself against a Patriot type missile. If it cant what is the point of having them. It seema that missiles ans drones just keep getting better.

  6. Wondering how the recruitment and retention will go when evidently much of the traing will be done on simulators as the cost per hour is significant.
    I would like to have seen a mix as well, including a closer look at the Saab 39.

  7. The F-35 is too expensive for Canada to purchase and maintain. It’s major flaw is still the single engine and it has not been combat proven. Stick with an American twin engine non-stealth.

  8. The Finns are ramping up to build their own F-35’s in Finland and I understand that SAAB has an interest in this arrangement as well… Begs the question … As the Finns were not part of the original mix of countries such as Canada and Italy, who signed on in the development stages, Italy being given licence to build F-35’s for the Euro market, how is it then that Finland has been granted licence to build their own F-35’s thus keeping Finn taxpayers dollars in Finland.. yet Canada could not score a similar deal with the US/Lockheed Martin to build F-35’s here in Canada .. keeping production and supply chain tax dollars here in Canada when Canada is buying more F-35’s than either Finland or Italy.. and we have a ready plane maker .. a company by the name of .. Bombardier… I’d like answers as I’m sure so would other readers.

    1. Bombardier is never on time or on budget, and would, as soon as it got the contract, begin demanding government subsidies and bailouts, while the Liberal Party hacks lined up to fill their pockets with kickbacks. Canada needs to buy it’s aircraft from a reputable supplier at a fixed price and on time.

  9. If you’ve watched the videos of battles between top Russian aircraft and missiles, you must doubt the value of manned aircraft at all.
    Canada should invest heavily in the production of super sophisticated missiles and drones for protection of civilians and disarming the enemy.
    It’s not too late to dominate the air.

  10. When the Liberals are in Charge of Canada the Canadian taxpayers get Screw and the Military suffers. Liberal government of Canada since Pierre Trudeau, Jean Chreiten and Now Justin Trudeau hates the Military

  11. moi jai une seul question si notre f18 ((((avec 2 réservoirs de plus))) a que quelque minute un coup rendu sur place intercepter un avion avec avec Range – 3,700 km il faut qui rebrousse chemin apprêt 10m sur place maximum comment le f35 va faire pas de réservoir externe avec seulement 2,200 km et incompatible avec des réservoir externe a chaque foi faudra décoller des Tanker c complètement malade et ridicule comme tout le reste bravo…
    le f16 block 72 a presque la même technologie et a fait c preuve et le range et de plus de 4000km et a moitié du prix

  12. Personally .. i think the f35 is a beautiful aircraft . I WAS however a little disappointed when i read that the f35 engine upgrade thats part of the block 4 isnt very substantial. At least in my humble opinion . I belived that the block 4 f35s would be fitted with the lockheed cutting edge adaptive cycle engines that would give our 35s somthing like 30 percent more range … 30 percent more power , which would put our planes somewhere above mach 3 . But … a childish fantasy i guess . Im no military tactician or aviation expert .. i get that the f35s m.o is to detect , identify, target and blow away enemy aircraft before said enemy aircraft has even detected the stealthy jet , not to mention our f35s ability to see an enemy coming far before the enemy is anywhere close enough to make a move . . So as was explaned in an article … it does not need to be a speed demon.. i mean …our f35s can still scream through the sky at mach 1.4 or 1.6 plus the block 4 pratt and whitney upgraded engine will give the aircraft a bit of a speed increase im sure and a little bit of a range increase. I do understand why , with this 5th gen or even 5.5 gen extreem speed might be irrelevant. Its a modern air craft .. not a dog fighter .. even though , i dont care what anyone says … ive seen this aircraft fly .. i have no doubt that in a dog fight .. it can ball with any air craft including the Raptor . But f35 pilots are specially trained to never let anything come close . It has tech that pretty much turns every plane into a tactical command hub . Some of these block 4 upgrades are classified. Im sure there will also be energy weaponry and wing man drones .. that will undoubtedly reach hypersonic speeds . Not to mention.. our f35s will be the only ones , anywhere .. with the extra internal weapons bay upgrade . So our planes with be packing more heat without compromising there stealth profile. I thought the Gripin would have been a better choice .. there fabulous air craft. But i think they made the right choice. In down with the f35 .. god help any enemy of ours who foolishly fucks around with us or our friends . Honestly … im waiting for the day our military and commercial even private aviation tech goes full out anti grav!! Release the flying Sauciers!!

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