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

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

The wind has been gusting Friday, March 5 in Williams Lake with the risk of a thunderstorm in the forecast for later in the afternoon. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
More than 500 customers in Cariboo without power, risk of thunderstorm Friday afternoon

The BC Hydro map is adding more power outages as the afternoon unfolds

The two suspects arrested south of 150 Mile House Tuesday, March 2, following a high-speed chase with the RCMP have been charged. (Will Roberts photo)
High-speed chase suspects charged, remain in custody after arrest south of Williams Lake

John Craig and Maggie M. Higgott appeared in Williams Lake Provincial Court March 4

Interior Health reported 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5. (Black Press Files)
Interior Health reports 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5

Over 300,000 vaccine doses have been administered provincewide.

Many members of the Williams Lake Cross Country Ski Club (pictured) have teamed up with the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society to host a free ski in celebration of World Water Day. (Patrick Davies photo - Black Press Media)
Conservation society, cross country ski club, celebrate World Water Day with free ski March 6

The free ski will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 6 at Bull Mountain

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C. on the COVID-19 situation. (B.C. government)
Dr. Bonnie Henry predicts a ‘post-pandemic world’ for B.C. this summer

‘Extending this second dose provides very high real-world protection to more people, sooner’

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

A crashed helicopter is seen near Mt. Gardner on Bowen Island on Friday March 5, 2021. Two people were taken to hospital in serious but stable condition after the crash. (Irene Paulus/contributed)
2 people in serious condition after helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Surrey Pretrial in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. transgender inmate to get human rights hearing after being held in mostly male jail

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Amber Prince on March 3 dismissed the pretrial’s application to have Makayla Sandve’s complaint dismissed

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

The Netflix logo on an iPhone. B.C. delayed imposing sales tax on digital services and sweetened carbonated beverages as part of its response to COVID-19. Those taxes take effect April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke
B.C. applies 7% sales tax on streaming, vaping, sweet drinks April 1

Measures from 2020 budget were delayed due to COVID-19

Chief Don Tom of the Tsartlip First Nation was outraged after Green MLA Adam Olsen revealed on social media that the community had been experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak – a fact the First Nation had chosen to keep private to avoid racist backlash as experienced by the Cowichan Tribes when an outbreak was declared there in January. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation ‘outraged’ after Green MLA reveals COVID-19 outbreak

Tsartlip First Nation chief shares concerns about racist backlash, MLA apologizes

A lawyer wears a face mask and gloves to curb the spread of COVID-19 while waiting to enter B.C. Supreme Court, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. British Columbia’s highest court has sided with the land owner in a dispute over public access to public land. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. high court finds in favour of large landowner in fight over access to pair of lakes

The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club launched legal action after the cattle company blocked road and trail access

Most Read