An RCAF CF-18 takes off from CFB Bagotville, Que. on Thursday, June 7, 2018. Defence officials say they expect to know next spring what sensor, weapons and defensive upgrades will be needed to ensure the country’s aging CF-18 fighter jets are still able to fly combat missions until they are replaced in 2032. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Air force to contract out some fighter-jet work

The technician shortage was first revealed in an explosive auditor general’s report last month

The Canadian military is looking to contract out some maintenance work on the country’s aging CF-18 fighter jets as well as training to help address a shortage of experienced technicians.

Defence officials revealed the plan during a Commons committee meeting on Monday, in which they also defended the time needed to pick a new jet for the air force and faced calls to reveal how much it will cost to upgrade the CF-18s’ combat systems.

The technician shortage was first revealed in an explosive auditor general’s report last month in which the watchdog took aim at the Liberals’ plan to buy second-hand Australian jets by warning the air force needed more technicians and pilots — not planes.

A number of measures are being introduced to address both shortfalls, air force commander Lt.-Gen. Al Meinzinger told the committee, including the contracting out of more involved maintenance that usually takes place away from the frontlines as well as some tech training.

The initiatives will free up about 200 experienced aircraft technicians so they can work directly on planes in the field and keep them flying, Meinzinger said, adding in an interview after the meeting that the move would not affect combat readiness.

Initiatives are also being introduced to better support military families, which Meinzinger identified as a key contributing factor in why many pilots and technicians are leaving, while the air force is looking at a new training model to produce more pilots.

Even with these measures, Meinzinger said he expected it to take between five and seven years to have a full complement of pilots and technicians in time to start transitioning from the CF-18s to new state-of-the-art replacements.

“We’re putting our shoulder to the wheel,” Meinzinger told The Canadian Press. “This is a top priority. … But it’s going to take some time, obviously.”

Defence officials faced pointed questions from members of Parliament on both sides of the table during Monday’s committee meeting about the length of time it is expected to take for those new replacements to be selected and delivered.

A request for proposals will be released in the spring, with bids due in early 2020. Another full year has been set aside to evaluate those bids and another for negotiations with the winner. Delivery of the first aircraft is expected in 2025 and the last in 2031.

RELATED: Canadian air force short 275 pilots

The Defence Department’s head of procurement, Patrick Finn, underscored the complexity of the $19-billion project, which has been plagued by delays and political mismanagement for more than a decade as Canada has sought to choose a new fighter.

Those complexities include the usual challenges evaluating and negotiating the capabilities of each of the four aircraft that are expected to compete, Finn said, as well as the industrial benefits to Canada and intellectual-property rights.

At the same time, he added, the process for actually purchasing each of the planes is different given, for example, that Canada is a member of the F-35 stealth fighter project while the U.S. government would need to officially sign off on buying Super Hornets.

In fact, Finn said the government has only limited flexibility in its schedule given that most manufacturers can only start delivering aircraft three years after an order is made — though he remained confident that the timeline would be met.

The length of time was nonetheless a clear concern to some committee members.

Officials were also grilled over the cost of upgrading the CF-18s’ sensors, weapons and defensive measures after the auditor general found $3 billion in planned investments over the next decade was only to keep them flying and did not include their combat systems.

The Defence Department’s top bureaucrat, deputy minister Jody Thomas, told the committee that an analysis is underway, which includes consulting with the U.S. and other allies, and that a plan is expected in the spring.

RELATED: Royal Canadian Air Force retires CH-124 Sea King helicopters

But opposition members challenged Thomas when she suggested that the department would not be able to provide cost estimates to the committee before being presented to the government, saying even if it is a matter of security, they are entitled to the information.

“A unilateral declaration by a deputy or anybody that a parliamentary committee cannot have information is unacceptable,” NDP MP David Christopherson said.

“There needs to be one more step to pursue that so that question, which is entirely legitimate in my opinion, can be answered in a way that respects the security and defence issues but also upholds the right of Parliament to demand any information they so choose.”

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Four activists face charges linked to 2019 Abbotsford hog-farm protest

Mischief and break-and-enter charges laid for incidents on four separate days prior to the protest

Three men face attempted murder charges after Harrison Hot Springs stabbing

Man, 24, sent to hospital with life-threatening injuries following attack Wednesday

‘Tiny home’ being built for Abbotsford woman with severe allergies

Online campaign raises $59,000 for custom cargo trailer for Katie Hobson

Chilliwack children can get tested locally, Fraser Health confirms

Erroneous information online and via 811 has many families driving to Abbotsford for testing

Face masks will be mandatory for customers at all Walmart locations

Requirement goes into effect on Wednesday, Aug. 12 across Canada

371 British Columbians battling COVID-19, health officials confirm

Thursday (Aug. 6) saw a second straight day of nearly 50 new confirmed cases

Visitors and non-residents entering closed remote B.C. First Nation’s territories

With limited resources, they say they don’t have any authority or power to enforce the closures

UBC loses appeal on Fisheries Act convictions

BC Supreme Court upholds order to pay $1.55-million fine

Masks to be mandatory on BC Transit, TransLink starting Aug. 24

Both BC Transit and TransLink made the announcement in separate press releases on Thursday

Acclaimed B.C. actor Brent Carver passes away

Carver, one of Canada’s greatest actors with a career spanning 40 years, passed away at home in Cranbrook

B.C. would not send students back to school if there was ‘overwhelming risk’: Horgan

Plan has left many parents across the province worried about their children’s safety

Canucks blank Wild 3-0, take series lead in penalty-filled NHL qualifying clash

Jacob Markstrom stops 27 shots to lead Vancouver past Minnesota

North Okanagan man chains himself to tree in protest of construction

Crews began work clearing space for a new facility Thursday, Aug. 6

Most Read