Estimated reading time 6 minutes, 52 seconds.
Op-ed by William E. Gortney and Timothy J. Keating
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is a unique, 63-year-old defense relationship between Canada and the United States. This organization, in close collaboration with a multitude of binational partners, is responsible for safeguarding the sovereign airspaces of both countries. The outstanding men and women charged with this task have performed brilliantly in the execution of their duties, and they must continue to have the resources they need to meet the demands and threats of the day. Much of these resources are due for modernization, and close Canada-U.S. collaboration will be required to ensure cost-effective, relevant, and effective solutions are obtained.
Canada’s current Future Fighter Capability Project (FFCP) is a timely example of this much needed modernization. FFCP is expected to play out in the coming months, and it is critically important that Canada selects a fighter replacement that can deliver on the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF’s) long standing history of excellence. Three aircraft remain in the competition: the Boeing Block III Super Hornet, Saab Gripen E, and Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.
Canada’s effort to choose a new fighter aircraft to replace its aging CF-18 fleet is one of the largest procurement programs in the nation’s history. Fielding a fighter aircraft with the right balance of survivability, counter and blended stealth capabilities, self-protection, weapons capacity, and range at an affordable cost are the key to the fighter capability in any country. As previous NORAD commanders who are familiar with the capabilities of the three aircraft under consideration, we believe the combination of advanced capabilities at a lower cost make the Block III Super Hornet the best choice for the RCAF, and the best value for the Canadian taxpayers.
Early in June 2020, the U.S. Navy unveiled the Block III Super Hornet as its predominant multi-role fighter for its “Global Power Projection” and air-dominance mandate. With a 10,000-hour airframe, enhanced network capability, and advanced data link and long-wave Infrared Search and Track, the new variant of the F/A-18 brings next-level synergy to its capabilities. In fact, this robust, twin-engine Super Hornet is ideally suited for all Canadian military missions, at home and abroad — especially in Canada’s High Arctic. Additionally, the aircraft is capable of refueling other Super Hornets, serving as a force multiplier in large countries with limited resources. The Super Hornet is also compatible with the RCAF’s existing pilot training, as well as 65 percent of its current infrastructure and all of the weapons in its current inventory, providing for a low-risk transition.
With no planned retirement, Block III Super Hornets will undergo regular upgrades and modernization programs to ensure they continue to outperform all adversaries and competitors for the next 40 years. Boeing will support the U.S. Navy, Australia, Kuwait, and Germany — which recently announced its intent to add Super Hornets and Growlers to its force structure. Other prospective partner-nations include Finland, Switzerland, India, and others, which could result in a global fleet of well over 1,000 next-gen Super Hornets.
The Block III Super Hornet is the smartest choice for Canada to fulfill its NORAD missions as it looks to modernize its fighter force. The aircraft is ideally suited for Canada’s defense priorities; it is fully interoperable with the nation’s allies, works with a large degree of its existing infrastructure, and provides an affordable, low-risk transition to the RCAF’s next fighter.
William E. Gortney is a retired admiral from the U.S. Navy following 39 years of commissioned service, during which he commanded at every level in the Navy. In addition to his most recent role as commander, North American Defense Command, and commander, United States Northern Command, Gortney has also flown over 5,360 mishap-free flight hours and completed 1,265 carrier-arrested landings. He continues to serve in both public and private capacities.
Retired admiral Timothy J. Keating served for 38 years in the U.S. Navy, including his most recent three years as the commander of the United States Pacific Command, headquartered in Honolulu, Hawaii. Keating has also held command positions at the Naval Strike Warfare Center, a Carrier Air Wing, and an F-18 Squadron. Currently, Keating is the CEO of Keating Global, LLC and vice chair of the board of directors for the U.S. Naval Institute. Both Gortney and Keating are currently independent consultants for Boeing Defense, Space and Security.