The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

Canada's process for selecting a future fighter to replace its CF-18 Hornets has been a rocky one, with the F-35 option doing what it seems to do best: Making lots of controversy. All the while the most logical option, Boeing's Super Hornet Advanced is waiting in the wings.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

Up until a couple of years ago, the Harper Government attempted to fast track the purchase of the troubled F-35 to fill the Hornet's shoes until it was so clear that the math regarding fielding an all F-35 force was a square peg trying to fit into much smaller round fiscal hole. The entire process was eventually halted under a barrage of accusations and controversy after a crushing independent audit basically said what many in the defense world had been saying for years, Canada's F-35 numbers don't add up and the capability the F-35 provides at a great cost may not even be necessary or even relevant to Canada in the first place.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

Part of the fury over the Harper Government's F-35 push was that it seemed like they were so hot to buy the Joint Strike Fighter that they barely shopped for alternatives or even justified its extreme cost in the first place. Considering Canada's unique geographic and geopolitical realities, many thought, and continue to think, that the F-35 is the least logical candidate for the job of Canada's sole fighter aircraft. Things came to a head in 2012 when the Canadian Government said it would conduct its own independent study, which would last around 18 months, and the Harper Government finally folded and went along with the plan. This independent study was supposedly to be based on realistic metrics, not the perversely generous ones that plagued the earlier stages of the F-35's development, of which the Harper Administration was merrily basing their original costs and timeline estimates on.

That review process is rumored to be at its end, and two potential outcomes of it seem to be possible. The first would be to continue with the purchase of the F-35 as a sole solution to replace the RCAF's Hornets. The second would be to go shopping on the ultra-competitive international fighter jet market for a Hornet replacement, of which industrial offsets will be a key factor in making a final decision. Keep in mind that this would not preclude the F-35 from being a part of the competition.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

Canada's cost for both procuring and operating the F-35 has progressively grown as its acquisition saga has played out. Originally, the cost to purchase and operate the F-35 was pegged at an overtly optimistic $17B, with $9B for acquisition and $8B for operations, and has since officially grown to $45B. Yet independent watchdog groups and other think-tanks have pegged it anywhere from $56B to $126B over the aircraft's three decades plus long lifetime. Such operational costs would cripple the Canadian military under current and predicted funding levels.

Yet ,cost is not the only thing F-35 detractors cite when arguing against the troubled and complex stealth jet. The aircraft's performance, reliability, fleet size and especially its perceived missions are constantly questioned.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

Canada is a large country with about the same geographical area as the US, but with a just one tenth its population. Massive stretches of Canadian wilderness are largely uninhabited, but the airspace above it must be policed at a moments notice as commercial aircraft flying popular trans-polar routes fly into the airspace frequently. Strategically, Canadian airspace was once considered the front lines of the Cold War, as bombers, and even ICBMs, would fly over the pole to hit targets deep within the United States or Russia, depending on what side you were on, if World War III were to have occurred. With Putin's Russia emerging as a more aggressive military power than many would like, and with strategic aircraft bearing the red star operating provocatively near or into NATO airspace much more frequently as of late, being able to quickly and consistently respond to airspace incursions has recently taken on a bit more significance than it has in the past twenty years. This is not to mention the constant threat of terrorism via hijacked airliners which NORAD, of which Canada is a part, has been on high alert for since the morning of September 11th, 2001

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

Since the early 1980s, Canada has been flying the CF-18 Hornet, an aircraft that was really an ill-suited, one-size-fits-all fighter solution for Canada in the first place. It is not that the Hornet isn't reliable, cost effective and a capable multi-role fighter, it is just that it has fairly dismal combat radius of a few hundred miles or so depending on the weapons and fuel tanks it lugs around and how fast it has to get somewhere. A relatively short-ranged fighter is not exactly ideal for patrolling the vast expanses of remote Canadian airspace, nor was the Hornet's original avionics suite focused on such a mission.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

Under the late 1970s "New Fighter Aircraft" (NFA) program, Canada was interested in buying Northrop's F-18L, which was a lighter (by about 6,000lbs), land-based variant of the carrier optimized McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 and a more direct decedent to the YF-17 Cobra. The F-18L would have had more range, better acceleration and maneuverability, and would have had a lower operating cost than its carrier-borne cousin. It also had an additional stores station on each wing, made possible by eliminating the F/A-18's wing folding device.

Other heavier and longer-range fighters that featured more powerful radars, such as the F-15 or even the F-14, were much better suited for Canada's air defense needs in retrospect, but at the time, their acquisition cost was outside of Ottawa's budget and they lacked mature multi-role capabilities. Cost was also the issue when it came to solely being responsible for developing the F-18L, as there were no other buyers seeking its modified airframe at the time.

Canada ended up deciding between the F-16 and the F/A-18, moving forward with the purchase of the standard F/A-18A/B as it was said to most closely meet their limited requirements, as well as being a twin-engine design which was thought to limit attrition and increase peace of mind while flying over Canada's vast wilderness. The Hornet purchase also fell within the NFA program's budgetary restriction while providing substantial offsets to Canadian industry.

The decision to purchase the Hornet has proven somewhat successful as the standard F/A-18's beefier airframe, meant to withstand intense corrosion while deployed at sea, as well as the constant trapping and catapulting on and off of carrier decks, has allowed the CF-18s to soldier on long after their original out of service date had passed.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

Canada bought 138 CF-18 Hornets in total, and the jets have received some heavy upgrades which have turned them into highly capable precision attack and fighter aircraft. The introduction of the AIM-120 AMRAAM has given the jets a highly potent beyond visual range "semi-fire and forget" capability against multiple targets at one time as well. Other upgrades including updated Sniper targeting pods, Link16/MIDS data-link terminals, an upgraded identification friend or foe (IFF) system, the updated AN/APG-73 pulse doppler radar, Joint Helmet Mounted Curing System (JHMCS) and AIM-9X Sidewinder allow the jets to remain highly useful in NATO combat operations abroad.

Even with these upgrades, along with some structural ones as well, Canada's fighter force is aging rapidly and another highly costly upgrade, estimated at almost $20M per jet, will be needed to keep them flying well into the next decade if a replacement is not picked very soon.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

There are about 80 CF-18s in RCAF inventory today, which is interesting as the Ottawa seeks to replace its proven Hornets with only 65 much more complicated F-35s. This leads to the following questions:

-Are 65 tactical aircraft really a relevant sized force for a nation the size of the US?

-How can such a small force adequately provide air sovereignty while also training for a multitude of missions, yet alone deploying in relevant numbers for actual combat operations?

-Will Canada be able to provide independent training for aircrews as it does today with such a tiny F-35 force structure?

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

All these questions can basically be rolled into one larger question: Is there more value in numbers than extreme capabilities considering that such a large nation will have roughly the same amount of tactical aircraft as a single Carrier Air Wing at surge capacity? In fact, Oregon alone will have almost as many tactical fighters as all of Canada!

Many believe the answer to this larger question is yes, in Canada's case numbers supersede top-end capabilities, especially considering that these aircraft will mainly be used to patrol their own homeland and that other, more cost effective options exist for the highly volatile deep-strike mission, should Canada actually need such an advanced capability in the first place.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

It is quite logical that Boeing's Super Hornet, especially in its "International Roadmap/Super Hornet Advanced" configuration would be the right aircraft for Canada to replace their aging "legacy Hornets" on their tight budget.

The F/A-18E/F, and the type's electronic warfare variant that has almost entirely replaced the Navy's venerable EA-6B Prowlers, named the EA-18G Growler, have a ton of commonality with their CF-18 Hornet predecessors. The Super Hornet design was created with great commonality with the first generation Hornet in mind. This includes similar maintenance procedures, training doctrine, avionics and especially pilot familiarity. The similarities between the two aircraft have even allowed VFA-122, the Navy's prime West Coast Fleet Replenishment Squadron that trains new Hornet pilots and refreshes old ones alike, to have instructors that were dual-qualified to train students in both the Super Hornet and the Legacy Hornet types at the same time.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

Australia has also seen the synergies between its aging Legacy Hornet and newly acquired Super Hornet force as they have procured 24 Super Hornets and an additional 12 Growlers over the last half decade or so. Originally, the Super Hornets were bought as a stop-gap measure as the F-35 was delayed and the RAAF's old F-111 Aardvarks were becoming too expensive to operate. As time went by the RAAF looked at their Super Hornet force as much more than a stop-gap measure, and were extremely pleased with how well it complimented their existing Legacy Hornet Force. They were so pleased with the type that they purchased the Growler as well in order to provide electronic attack and jamming not just for their Super Hornets and Legacy Hornets, but for the F-35A should they proceed with purchasing the stealth fighter in the future.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

In addition to fielding the Super Hornet, the RAAF also procured the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) for long range penetrating attacks against an enemy with a top-of-the-line air defense system. JASSM has a very low radar signature, packs a 1,000lb warhead and can travel over 600 miles to its target while avoiding hostile radars on the fly. Such a munition, although not cheap at a cost of close to $1M apiece, allows for aircraft like the Super Hornet, especially with the Growler's jamming support, to strike targets deep within enemy airspace without even putting the launching aircraft at risk. Seeing as even the F-35 is becoming less and less capable of hiding from advanced integrated air defense networks as each day passes, investing in expendable stealthy standoff munitions, which can also allow an air arm to save billions on procuring less costly fighter designs, may not just be a good alternative to the F-35 going forward, it may become a necessity.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

The Super Hornet, with its low acquisition cost (less than half the cost of a single F-35) and much lower operating costs could allow for Canada to maintain its organic crew training program based out of CFB Cold Lake, Alberta. For decades the 410th Tactical Fighter Operational Training Squadron has become notorious for training some of the best fighter pilots in the world under Canada's own terms. The loss of such a capability would give up a fair portion of Canada's sovereignty over their pilot corps and their unique air power doctrine.

The Super Hornet on the other hand, would offer a near seamless conversion from the Legacy Hornet type and would allow instructors to be qualified on both platforms, just as VFA-122 proved possible, during the multiple years long conversion to the Super Hornet. Similarly, maintenance staff and support personnel would have a much easier and more cost efficient switch to supporting the Super Hornet than an exotic 5th generation fighter, as the Super Hornet not only shares common design elements and maintenance procedures with Legacy Hornets it would replace, but it also shares the same manufacturer, Boeing.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

In the Super Hornet, Canada would not only get a newer aircraft that has commonality with their past mount and an economic aircraft that can fit easily within its budget, but it would also get an aircraft with some fantastic new capabilities. First off, the jet has more range than its predecessor, about 35% more to be exact. With additional tanks this figure increases dramatically, which is a good thing while patrolling the vast northern expanses of Canadian wilderness. In fact, the Super Hornet can carry five external 480 gallon tanks (over 30k lbs of fuel when combined with its internal fuel volume) while still retaining the ability to carry a pair of AIM-9X Sidewinders and a pair of AIM-120 AMRAAMS. Additionally, missiles could also be carried on the outboard under-wing stations, although currently Canada tends to execute air sovereignty missions with a pair of AIM-120s mounted semi-recessed along the jet's engine nacelles and a pair of AIM-9X Sidewinders on the wingtips. The Super Hornet's ability to carry so much gas aloft would allow it to perform air sovereignty missions over large swathes of Canadian airspace without mid-air refueling.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

This "five wet" configuration, where five external tanks are carried by the F/A-18E/F at one time, can have the centerline tank replaced with a buddy-refueling pod. This would allow Canada's Super Hornets to provide organic aerial refueling without relying on the RCAF's pair of CC-150T Polaris Tankers, their handful of KC-130T drogue equipped Hercules transports, or commercial contractors. Additionally, Super Hornets configured as tankers could sit alert far from alert bases, ready to fuel up armed Hornets in mid-air should they have an intercept far from their launch point. The F-35 currently has no buddy refueling capability.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

The Super Hornet was designed to operate in horrible conditions, and the fact that it packs a pair of the most reliable fighter-jet engines around, the GE-F414, means that it retains the same hardy qualities that made Canada pick the Hornet originally. RCAF officials knew the New Fighter Aircraft would be operating out of austere and freezing airfields and flying over extremely remote areas where two engines could mean the difference between life and death. Even Canada's large bird population is a major hazard to single engine fighters, and having no second motor should a bird ingestion occur means the pilot almost certainly having to pull the handle to eject and a total loss of the airframe.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

The Super Hornet is widely known for its incredibly intuitive, reliable and effective avionics suite. The centerpiece in this suite is the AN/APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar set, the most proven and developed AESA in the world. This radar system, which is not handicapped by a mechanically scanned antenna, allows for "interlaced" modes, where both air-to-air and air-to-ground data can be produced at the same time. In other words, the aircrew no longer have to switch between air-to-air and air-to-ground modes. For example, the pilot could be mapping the ground for a target while at the same time scanning the air for enemy aircraft. All that information can be displayed in front of him or her on their tactical display. The AN/APG-79's range, fidelity and reliability are also a large leap above the mechanically scanned AN/APG-73 radar that currently flies on RCAF Hornets.

The Super Hornet will soon be sporting a InfraRed Search & Track (IRST) system mounted on the aircraft centerline tank. This modification will allow the Super Hornet to detect fighter sized targets dozens of miles away without having to emit any electromagnetic energy via its radar which enemy aircraft and surveillance systems can detect. Additionally, the Super Hornet's IRST will work seamlessly with the aircraft's advanced mission computer, radar, radar warning receiver and data-link so that it can add to the common sensor picture or conversely look in the right area of the sky for possible targets that other sensors detect, both on-board and off.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

Other features such as a fully integrated Joint Helmet Mounted Cuing System (JHMCS), an advanced digital threat warning system, towed-decoy capability, a missionized rear cockpit with a huge situational display and the widest selection of weaponry available to any fighter aircraft in the world really makes the Super Hornet an attractive aircraft beyond its basic economics and ease of integration into Canada's existing fighter aircraft infrastructure.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

The most promising thing about the Super Hornet platform is that it continues to evolve, and the F/A-18 Super Hornet Advanced will feature large improvements over its predecessor. This "Block III" derivative of the Super Hornet features conformal fuel tanks mounted around the jet's center barrel section that give the aircraft an additional 3,500lbs of gas without any drag penalty. A stealthy weapons "canoe" can be fitted which allows for various weapons to be carried within it, such as a pair of AMRAAMS and six Small Diameter Bombs, or a single 2,000lb BLU-109 bunker buster to name a couple configurations. Also, Enhanced Performance Engines (EPE) gives the Super Hornet Advanced 20% more thrust and better fuel economy. These three improvements alone will allow the Super Hornet to perform much better when it comes to speed and acceleration as its wings would be able to fly completely clean, aside from a pair of Sidewinders on its wingtips. Since its inception, the Super Hornet has been plagued by canted stores pylons, an unfortunate and draggy result of weapons separation issues early on in its development. With so much thrust and just the weapons pod hanging off of the jet's centerline, there is a good chance it could supercruise although this has not been confirmed yet. Regardless, range and kinetic performance will increase generously.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

A fully integrated Infrared Search & Track (IRST) system mounted on the chin of the jet, along with a 360 degree advanced missile launch detection system, would be part of the package as well, although a distributed aperture system that could provide similar coverage as the F-35's DAS system is rumored to be an option too.

Other signature reducing methods would be applied to the Super Hornet Advanced giving it a reduction in radar cross section by about 50%. Considering the Super Hornet already features a reduced radar cross-section, these improvements, along with jamming and electronic attack capability, some of which will be coming to the Super Hornets APG-79 radar set, should allow the Super Hornet Advanced to get well within Small Diameter Bomb launching distance of high-threat emitters such as double-digit SAM sites.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

The Super Hornet Advanced concept would feature a new flat-panel touch screen cockpit display for hugely increased situational awareness, as well as a state of the art digital electronic countermeasures and threat warning system.

Read the full Super Hornet Advanced brief here.

All these changes combine to offer a truly enhanced Super Hornet, both in terms of utility, stealthiness and raw performance metrics. The best part about the Super Hornet Advanced is that it is a cost-effective and scalable option. Canada does not need a high-cost stealth fighter to patrol its own airspace or to provide close air support for its forces deployed under permissible airspace abroad. Super Hornet Advanced allows an air arm to have a low-signature fighter for advanced counter-air, strike and destruction of enemy air defenses (DEAD) operations when they need it, and an economical airspace patrol aircraft or bomb truck when they do not. Also, these options are retrofittable to Block II Super Hornets and a service can mix and match what options it wants.

For instance, the Growler could especially benefit from conformal fuel tanks as its stores stations would be better used for ALQ-99 jamming pods than fuel tanks, but it does not have as much of a need for the other enhancements. As a result just conformal fuel tanks could be ordered for it while other Super Hornets may get the whole kit. Even the weapons pods can be bought separately and the Super Hornet can carry one under each wing for more stealthy weapons storage.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

When actual costs and value comes into play, it is almost an industry certainty that anyone who buys more Super Hornets in the next five years is going to be getting the jets at an extremely good price as the production line is vulnerable to closure after about 2015. This will be extended a little later if the US Congress tacks on more Growler orders to the current defense bill. Also, Boeing has already offered Canada 100% industrial offsets in order to keep them a customer, so the Government's return on investment to industry is outstanding.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

It all comes down to what a nation is willing to pay for what level of "solution" they actually need. For instance, if the Super Hornet Advanced is an 80% solution to the F-35's 100% solution, but costs half that of the F-35, is that extra 20% of capability worth double the acquisition and operating costs?

Then there is the question of what missions does Canada really need the F-35's capability for? To be relevant fighting right next to America during the very first shots of a war against an advanced foe? With just 65 aircraft in inventory, and having the homeland air defense mission to continue on with during a time of conflict, I hardly think a dozen or so F-35s are going to turn the tide of such a conflict seeing as the US will supposedly have almost 2500 at their disposal. Not to mention that during the opening shots of such a conflict even the F-35s will most likely be launching standoff attack weapons like JASSM in order to degrade the enemy's air defense network without putting the aircraft at high risk in a "layered" SAM engagement zone. This is something a Super Hornet can do at a fraction of the cost of an F-35.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

Then there is the whole numbers issue, wouldn't Canada be better served by 130 Advanced Super Hornets (approx $60M per copy) than 65 F-35s (approx $120M per copy)? Of 65 F-35s only a portion of them will be available for deployment at any given time, half would be an optimistic guess and that is if Canada outsources training to the US.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

Other alternative force structures on Canada's same budget are even more enticing, such as immediately procuring 80 Advanced Super Hornets to replace the RCAF's geriatric CF-18s at $65M per copy, and retain $3.8B for eventually procuring a top-of-the-line stealthy semi-autonomous UCAV for deep-penetrating strike and reconnaissance missions. For 36 UCAVs at $75M a pop (including shared ground control stations), that would equal $2.7B. This leaves over $1B for a squadron of EA-18G Growlers to provide outstanding jamming, electronic attack and suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) for the entire fleet. Keep in mind that fielding the Growler alongside the Super Hornet is extremely economical as the only differences between the two are in the aircraft's avionics and subsystems.

I find it a very hard sell that 65 F-35s will be a better solution for Canada that offers more flexibility and capability than 80 Advanced Super Hornets, 36 stealth UCAVs and a dozen Growlers. A total force of 128 aircraft in all. Seeing as the future of air combat is surely unmanned, hedging Canada's manned fighter buy, which is supposedly going to have to be relevant for the next 30-40 years, with some extremely stealthy UCAVs makes a ton of sense. It also provides a medium endurance, low-observable surveillance platform to provide everything from intelligence gathering to network connectivity functions for Canada's "total force."

When it comes to Canada, fighter options other than the Super Hornet surely do exist, but none of them offers the seamless low-cost transition and familiarity that the Super Hornet can. Additionally, the Super Hornet remains the most flexible and technologically mature of all its competitors, and it has two engines, which edges out other low-cost competitors like the Sweden's Gripen E/F and the Block 52+/Block 60 F-16.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

The Eurofighter EF2000 has great maneuverability and blistering speed, as well as a state-of-the-art self defense and avionics suite, but it is also expensive to purchase and operate, rivaling the costs of the F-35 but without its low observability features or exotic avionics.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

France's Rafale has come into its own as a capable multi-role fighter, with outstanding performance over Libya and Mali, as well as its winning India's ridiculously competitive MMRCA competition. Yet the Refale does not use the same weapons as Canada's current CF-18 fleet, nor is there any commonality with the Hornet it would replace. Not to mention it has a flyaway cost of over $100M, which is close to F-35 territory when it comes to cost. Still, France is extremely aggressive with trying to get production rates up internationally for their hallmark fighter and have offered Canada a lucrative package of offsets and technological exchange in order to entice them to take a closer look at the Rafale.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

The Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle derived F-15SE "Silent Eagle" would really be a great jet for Canada's needs, offering incredible range and powerful sensors and avionics while also featuring an even more aggressive low-observable treatment than the Super Hornet Advanced. Still, the Silent Eagle would not come cheap, as it currently has no other buyer to front its development costs, and modern versions of the Strike Eagle are quite expensive to begin with even without all the F-15SE's radar evading upgrades. Also, like the other offerings listed here, the F-15SE represents the challenge of economically transitioning Canada's fighter force to an entirely different type, not to mention it costs about twice as much per hour to operate compared to the Super Hornet. Once again, Canada might as well go with the F-35 if they are going to spend close to $100M per aircraft and pay for operating costs in excess of $40K per hour.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

In the end the Super Hornet, especially in its most advanced configuration, represents a unique opportunity for Canada in that it offers the vast majority of the F-35's abilities in a much more economically feasible and operationally flexible package.

The fact that Canada already operates a highly upgraded version of the Super Hornet's progenitor makes the decision to purchase its successor all that much more logical. It seems as if the powers that be in Ottawa have little understanding of combat airpower and their demands for "only the best fighter available" does not necessarily mean that it is the best fighter for Canada, especially on their tight budget. Once again, how can 80 Advanced Super Hornets, 36 or even 24 Stealth UCAVs such as Boeing's Phantom Ray, and a squadron of EA-18G Growlers to support all of them, really equate to a less enticing proposition than 65 F-35s?

Some in Canada's government have said the F-35 will let them better operate within a coalition in the future. This is absurd. The Super Hornet and Growler will serve with the Navy for decades to come, not to mention the USAF's F-15 and F-16 force. Are these assets going to be sitting on the sidelines in future wars? Hardly. If anything modern history has taught us is that the high-end air power is the stuff that stays home during coalition operations abroad.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

What types of missions does Canada really see itself sending its fighters on in the future? Will they send their force of a few dozen F-35s to unilaterally take on another nation? Highly doubtful. Will they spend the majority of their flight hours providing air sovereignty over the homeland and supporting ground forces overseas while occasionally spending short periods operating within a large coalition during times of war? Much more likely.

When it comes down to it, a Super Hornet Advanced that can lob a JSOW some 50 miles away from an active enemy S300 SAM site is just as deadly as a F-35 that can drop a GBU-32 JDAM 10 miles away from that same site, and arguably the Super Hornet will have an even better chance of survival, especially with Growler support.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

During coalition operations the Super Hornet would also have great use as a counter-air fighter, just as the F-15C remains viable today. Against anything but the most advanced foe the Super Hornet Advanced will be an extremely deadly contender when it comes to air-to-air engagements. Against a theoretical future foe with highly advanced stealth fighter aircraft, the Super Hornet can work with F-22s and F-35s via providing a "rear-tier" sensor picture for forward deployed F-35s and F-22s that are operating near-electromagnetically silent. Their job would be to take on "squirters" that make it past the first tier of stealth aircraft, these include fighters, attack aircraft, and cruise missiles.

Finally, we must keep in mind that the whole stealth fighter concept is becoming less and less viable due to our potential enemies' ability to fuse information from multiple sensors, including low frequency radars that modern stealth fighters are not optimized against, not to mention advanced infrared scanning systems. The truth of the matter is that electronic attack, jamming and hacking of an enemy's air defense network will be as relevant, if not more relevant, when it comes to a fighter aircraft's survivability, as the shape of their airframe and/or the makeup of their skin coatings.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

Unmanned systems, such a subsonic flying wings that do not have appendages like tail surfaces, and that can hide their hot exhaust gasses on the upper plane of their fuselages, will be much more effective in providing broadband stealth than the "cutting edge" F-35 that is really only optimized to remain undetected by X-band search and fire-control radar systems. With all this in mind, the idea that the F-35 will be anything more than a very expensive Super Hornet Advanced utility-wise over the next 30 plus years is highly questionable.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

In the end, Canada's tough decision on its next fighter purchase really isn't that tough at all. The harsh reality is that they have very few eggs to put in one basket, and that basket may not even bear the heavy fiscal weight of the eggs they toss in it (those eggs being F-35 Joint Strike Fighters). Additionally, the F-35 program is far from secure. Sure, the Pentagon may be almost blindly committed at this point, but if production numbers drop, and they almost certainly will, and fly-away costs rise, the program could enter an economic death spiral. As a result, Canada, who planned on biting the bullet and paying say $120M per F-35 copy, may end up paying much more than that once the bill comes due. The truth is that the F-35 program sits on a foundation of dominoes, and world events, individual countries' political situations and economic priorities could send just a few of those dominoes falling, but the resulting chain reaction could be devastating.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

It is time for the Harper Government and the RCAF to get real and drop the F-35 nonsense and procure a more flexible and capable force that includes a scalable and familiar low-signature fighter with "balanced capabilities," and a capable electronic attack aircraft, those being the Super Hornet Advanced and Growler. As a result they may just have funds left over to purchase an extremely survivable unmanned system once they become more readily available and mature.

Although the F-35 may be the most expensive fighter option available to Canada today it is far from the most suitable for their unique needs and budgetary constraints. A cocktail of proven and highly advanced systems, which are fall well within Canada's budgetary restrictions, is the right solution to their 21st century air combat needs.

The Right Fighter For Canada Is The Super Hornet, Not The F-35

Pictures via Boeing, Lockheed, Northrop, US Navy, RAAF, RCAF, Tyler Rogoway/Foxtrot Alpha, Public Domain. Cover image via wikicommons "Ahunt."

Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer that maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com