Launched in the 1980s, the McDonnell Douglas CF-18 Hornet fighter is the backbone of the Royal Canadian Air Force, with 73 in service.
The McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet is one of the great success stories of the American aerospace industry. This twin-engined supersonic fighter and attack aircraft can operate from both aircraft carriers and land bases. Developed primarily for use by the US Navy and Marine Corps, it also serves in the air forces of seven other countries, from Canada to Australia, and from Finland to Malaysia.
Canada was the first foreign country to order F/A-18s with a contract for 138 CF-188s signed in April 1980. They were to replace three older aircraft of the Canadian Forces: the McDonnell CF-101 Voodoo all-weather fighter used to protect Canada’s air space, as well as the Canadair-built CF-104 Starfighter and CF-116 attack fighters dedicated to help NATO in Europe.
The supersonic CF-188 Hornet, popularly known as the CF-18, was procured from 1982 to 1988, at a total capital cost of $4 billion in 1982. McDonnell-Douglas, which later merged with Boeing, won the contract. Its design of the CF-18 Hornet was based on a variant of the U.S. military’s F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet. Many features that made the F/A-18 suitable for naval carrier operations were retained by the Canadian Forces, such as the robust landing gear, the arrestor hook, and wing folding mechanisms.
The most visible difference between a CF-18 and a US F-18 is the 0.6 Mcd night identification light. This spotlight is mounted in the gun loading door on the port side of the aircraft. Some CF-18s have the light temporarily removed, but the window is always in place. Also, the underside of the CF-18 features a painted “false canopy”. This is intended to momentarily disorient and confuse an enemy in air-to-air combat. Subsequently, the US Marine Corps Aviation and the Spanish Air Force F/A-18s also adopted this false canopy.
Boeing CF-18 Hornet is available in two variants namely CF-18A and CF-18B. CF-18A is a single seat combat and ground attack aircraft. CF-18B is fitted with two seats in the cockpit for pilot and co-pilot.
This supersonic fighter can engage both ground and aerial targets. Its twin engines generate enough thrust to lift 24 full-size pick-up trucks off the ground. This is thanks to two General Electric F404-GE-400 turbofan engines, each engine can produce 16,000lb of thrust.
The Canadian fighter can climb at a rate of 254m/s, the maximum speed of the aircraft is 1,814km/h, the combat radius and ferry range are 537km and 3,330km respectively and the service ceiling is 15,000m. The aircraft weighs 10,455kg and its maximum take-off weight is 23,400kg.
The aircraft is equipped with an infrared sensor pod , colour LCD displays, a night vision imaging system, a combat training system, an air combat guiding instrumentation system, and rough landing gear.
The CF-18 features nine hardpoints of which one is located under fuselage, four on wing stations, two on the sides of the fuselage and two on the wingtips. The fighter craft can carry 6,215kg of payload including rockets, bombs, fuel tanks and gun pods.
The aircraft is fitted with a 20mm M61A1 Vulcan internal gatling gun which can fire 4,000 to 6,000 munitions per minute. It is capable of being equipped with a wide variety of bombs such as unguided bombs, Paveway laser guided bombs, JDAM GPS bomb guidance kits and AGM-154 JSOW glide bombs. The aircraft is also furnished with AIM-9 Sidewinders, AIM-120 AMRAAM and AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missiles. The air-to-ground missile installed in the hornet encompasses AGM-65 Maverick, CRV7 rockets and AGM-88 Anti-Radiation Missile.
The CF-188 went through a phased modernization program to ensure that the Canadian Armed Forces have a modern and interoperable fighter fleet. During deployment in the 1991 Gulf War and the 1998 Kosovo conflict, it became apparent that some of the avionics on the CF-18 had become obsolete and incompatible with other NATO planes. The weaponry aboard the CF-18s was also out of date. A nine-year, two-phase modernization was undertaken by Boeing in 2001.
Phase 1, completed in 2006, included an upgrade of the plane’s avionics, radio and radar and the addition of improved weaponry. Phase 2, completed in 2010, featured the installation of the Link 16 tactical data exchange system, allowing for better communication with NATO allies, as well as the installation of a new weapons-targeting system and a flight data recorder.
Canadian Forces’ fleet of CF-18 Hornets has been improved such that the jets’ capabilities closely resemble those of the U.S. navy’s F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets. The CF-18s can carry the same payload as the Super Hornets and are equipped with identical weapons. The Super Hornets, however, are bigger and lighter than the CF-18s and have a larger combat radius.
The combat history of CF-18 was marked in 1991, the Canadian Forces deployed 24 CF-18s to aid the U.S. in Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield during the first Gulf War. This deployment represented Canada’s first engagement in combat since the Korean War.
CF-18s were also deployed to Italy to aid in operations in the former Yugoslavia. The aircraft first helped with air patrols in 1997, supporting NATO peacekeepers in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In June 1999, 18 CF-18s began participating in NATO air strikes against Serbian forces, conducting 10 per cent of all strikes, including 558 bombing missions.
Since then, CF-18s have played a major part in Operation Noble Eagle, the NORAD mission to protect the skies over the U.S. and Canada. They have been deployed to protect the airspace over Alaska and have most recently seen action as part of Operation Podium, the security mission to protect the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
The Canadian Forces CF-18 aircraft were also used during a 2011 United Nations approved NATO mission in Libya. The aircraft were used to conduct a total of 946 sorties during the uprising against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
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The fighter jets were also used in the US led mission against ISIS in Iraq and Syria from October 2014 to February 2016. The CF-18s conducted 1378 sorties, resulting in 251 airstrikes.Canada has lost at least twenty CF-18s in accidents, incurring at least eleven pilot deaths, the latest in a crash near CFB Cold Lake in November 2016. No CF-18s have been lost in combat.