At the same time, Canada has been a partner in the F-35 program since 1997, and technically still is, meaning it contributes tens of millions of dollars each year to support the continued development of that aircraft whether it ultimately buys any or not. You can read more about this obtuse arrangement here.
All of this only puts greater emphasis on the need to ensure that the RCAF’s existing Hornet fleet, including the ex-Australian examples, remains operationally relevant for years to come. Under the Canadian government’s current fighter acquisition schedule, which is hardly set in stone, the last legacy Hornets wouldn’t leave service until 2032.
At the same time, the full scope of the Hornet Extension Program is not entirely unclear. When the U.S. government approved the sale of the AN/APG-79(V)4 radars and other parts of the upgrade package last year, the expected deal included only 38 radars total. This was not enough to refit Canada’s entire Hornet fleet, even without the ex-Australian jets. Of course, even having a single AESA-equipped jet in a flight of CF-18A/B+ jets could provide benefits to the entire group, with information being shared with the other aircraft via datalinks.
So, a formal contract to begin adding AESA radars to the RCAF’s Hornets is an important step forward in giving those aircraft a capability boost they desperately need. However, it remains to be seen just how many jets ultimately receive these new radars, or any other upgrades under the Hornet Extension Program, as Canada continues to meander through its attempts to recapitalize the country’s fighter jet force.
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