Canadian Defense Review Boosts Spending, Mum on CF-18 Replacement

A USAF KC-135 crew from the 465th Air Refueling Squadron at Tinker AFB, Okla., completes an aerial refueling of a Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 Hornet July 11, 2016, in support of Rim of the Pacific 2016. US Air Force photo by MSgt. Grady Epperly.

Canada’s Department of National Defense pledged to increase its military spending by 70 percent over 10 years in a defense policy review released Wednesday. The document offers no further clarity on which aircraft Canada will choose as a long-term replacement for its aging fleet of CF-18 fighters.

The plan promises to raise annual defense spending by 73 percent from $18.9 billion in 2016-17 to $32.7 billion by 2026-27. This money will fund an increase of 3,500 troops to grow Canada’s Regular Force to 71,500 and an increase of 1,500 troops in its Reserve Force to bring it to 30,000. A DND statement said the policy is devoted to “making Canada strong at home, secure in North America, and engaged in the world.” Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan also said the plan is “fully costed, and it’s fully funded.”

Over the next 20 years, the review commits to spending $26.4 billion on the Canadian air force’s “planned equipment projects,” including money for 88 advanced fighter aircraft to allow Canada to “deliver on NORAD and NATO commitments without compromise.”

Through NORAD, the bi-national military command tasked with defense of North America, Canadian jets participate in the air defense of the continent. How the northern neighbor of the US will replace its CF-18s has been a controversial question.

Canada was an original development partner in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and had planned to buy 65 of the fighters. But Justin Trudeau was elected Prime Minister in 2015 on a platform that advocated exiting the program because of cost overruns.

Since Trudeau’s election, Sajjan has reopened the possibility of a Canadian F-35 buy, but he has also promised a detailed review of all options for next-generation fighters. In the meantime, the DND has committed to buying 18 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets to fill the capability gap while a long-term decision is made.

The Defense Review offers no new indication of how that decision will go, though it does fix the number of required fighters at 88. Te review says the DND is “continuing to explore the potential acquisition of an interim aircraft to supplement the CF-18 fighter aircraft fleet until the completion of the transition to the permanent replacement aircraft.”