Friday, 18 January 2013


In an informative interview in Vanguard magazine (1), previously referenced (2) in Canadian Defence Matters, Lieutenant-General Yvan Blondin, recently appointed Commander of the RCAF, said

“The F-35 represents where the western world is going. I’m going to be flying the F-18 for another 12-15 years – we will have flown it for close to 50 years by the time we shut off the engine of the last F-18. They were built for about 8,000 hours each and right now about 90 percent of flying is done on operations and 10 percent in a simulator. The F-35 will also be built for about 8,000 hours each, but we’re looking at a concept of about 50 percent on operations. That will extend its life. And since I’m looking for a plane that can fly 50 years plus – I’m going to start flying it in the 2020s and fly it into the 2070s – I want an aircraft in 2050-2060 that will still be modern. If that airplane is being operated by the Americans, the Brits, the Australians and others, they will share the modernization costs. The reason we were able to cost-effectively modernize our F-18s, and it is still a good airplane after 40 years, is because somebody else had built out the systems. When the U.S. modernized their F-18s, we had access to the same technology. So with the F-35, if this is going to be the American’s main jet for the next 50 years, we will have access to the technology that is going to be around this airplane to keep it modern. At the time we bought the F-18, the Tornado was a new airplane. We considered it. Well, today the F-18 recently flew in operations over Libya and was one of the most effective airplanes there; the Tornado is an old airplane and doesn’t have the systems to play in the same games. It was developed by a few countries, has a much smaller fleet and doesn’t have the same modernization programs and processes to keep it modern. This is an advantage we have with the F-18 and we would like to have it with the next platform

In an otherwise well argued position it is with this last comment that Canadian Defence Matters takes issue.

In point of fact Tornado, in all its various forms, has been the recipient of a host of upgrading programs (3). It too was active in Libya; in fact, it was even argued that as the Typhoon Eurofighter in RAF service was not capable of precision air strikes the Tornado was often the weapon of choice (4) (5).

According to the Panavia website, “Tornado Nations will keep their fleets operational until 2025 and beyond.”(6). The RAF is planning to keep their fleet in service to at least 2019 (7). German Air Force Tornados will get a technical upgrade, which could keep the multi-role aircraft combat-ready beyond 2025(8). Italian Air Force versions are also getting upgrades which will see the final Italian Tornado scheduled to be phased out in 2025(9).

These upgrades include a Forward-Looking Infra-Red (FLIR), a wide angle Head-Up Display (HUD), improved cockpit displays, Night-Vision Goggle (NVG) compatibility, new avionics and weapons systems, updated computer software, and Global Positioning System (9).

Gen. Blondin says we “considered” the Tornado. In fact in 1968, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Italy, and Canada formed a working group to look at replacements for the F104. The outcome of this project was initially called the MRA or Multi Role Aircraft, later changed to the MRCA, Multi Role Combat Aircraft. After Canada left this working group the MRCA evolved into the Tornado (10).

If Canada had adopted the Tornado as their NFA (New Fighter Aircraft) instead of the CF-18 Hornet which was chosen then given the number and kind of mid life updates available there is no reason to believe that we too could not keep them in service up to at least 2025. Which in turn means less pressure to adopt F-35’s as replacement before the program has reached maturity.

As most of Canada’s non-domestic RCAF operational roles have involved dropping bombs, for example in Bosnia and Libya (11) the Tornado would have been perfect for the role. The F3 variant (12) would have worked well for domestic air defence and one can even speculate about a Canadian version of the F3 with increased air-to-ground capabilities for a single type fleet.

What is the point of these might-have-beens? Well one point is that we should learn from history. In their last major fighter procurement the RCAF went for an affordable general purpose fighter-bomber. Having taken their own lessons from history it would appear that this time around they are looking at procuring a strike aircraft (the F-35) instead. What others may get from this look into the past is that if the Air Force is to be limited to a single type of aircraft then history suggests that a long range multi-role aircraft will probably be of more use to the RCAF in the future then a single purpose short ranged one.

(1) Seeking alternatives: New RCAF commander turns to technology


(3) Panavia, managing Tornado, web page

(4) Reuters, AIRSHOW-Old Tornado jets no crutch for Typhoon in Libya-pilot, By Rhys Jones, LE BOURGET, France, June 19 | Sun Jun 19, 2011 1:05pm EDT

(5)RAF Tornado Crew Praises Brimstone in Libya
Posted by Bradley Peniston | June 21st, 2011 | Paris Air Show 2011

(6)Panavia, managing Tornado, web page

(7)British Forces News, Tornados to leave service in March 2019
3 August 2012 | UK Worldwide  By Will Inglis

(8) DefenseNews, Mar. 13, 2012 - 12:12PM By Albrecht Muller

(9) Airforce, Tornado Multirole Aircraft

(10) Canadian Wings, Origins of a Fighter by David Gadfrey

AIR CAMPAIGN, by Lieutenant-Colonel David L. Bashow, Colonel Dwight Davies, Colonel André Viens, Lieutenant-Colonel John Rotteau, Major Norman Balfe, Major Ray Stouffer, Captain James Pickett and Dr. Steve Harris

 (12) Royal Air Force web site