|Eurofighter Typhoon (top) and Dassault Rafale (bottom).|
So what else is there? Some say that the neither the Gripen nor the F-35 would be right for Canada. Single engine jets might make some people nervous at the thought of an engine failure somewhere over the Canadian Arctic. Canada certainly had trouble with the single-engine CF-104 Starfighter, and the F-18 was chosen over the F-16 mainly for its twin engines. Jet engine reliability has come a long way in the near 50 years since the CF-104, but there certainly is a case to be made for a twin engine successor to the CF-18.
Here are some other options, keep in mind that, in today's uncertain political climate, these options may not only end up being potential allies, but adversaries as well.
The Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet
|The Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet.|
Trouble is, the Super Hornet is still a 1970s era design. It offers little performance advantage over the CF-18. Unlike more modern jets, it can't supercruise and it's not as agile either. Being a twin engine, it would require more maintenance and fuel than a Gripen. Possibly the biggest strike against it, the U.S. Navy has already started a replacement process for the Super Hornet, known as the F/A-XX.
Boeing F-15SE "Silent Eagle"
|The stealthy Eagle, Boeing F-15SE|
At an estimated $100 million a piece, the Silent Eagle wouldn't be cheap. The F-15 was never a cheap plane to fly, and adding stealthier materials and more advanced avionics certainly wouldn't make it any cheaper. There's also the fact that, so far, the Silent Eagle exists only as a concept, existing only as a mock-up. Until it receives some actual customers, it's likely to stay that way.
|The Eurofighter Typhoon.|
Billed by some as the second deadliest (next to the F-22) fighter in the skies, the Eurofighter Typhoon certainly presents itself as a fine choice. Capable of extreme agility and supercruise, its the preeminent jet fighter for the U.K, Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy, and has recently been announced for Saudi Arabia. Its been proven in combat over Libya, and its compatible with pretty much any weapon in the NATO arsenal.
As high budget product of an international consortium, the Typhoon has seen more than its share of controversy, budget overruns, and funding troubles. It lacks a more modern AESA radar and a few other features needed to keep it at the top of its game. With current European Union austerity measures, funding for Typhoon upgrades may be hard to come by. There's also the rather large price tag attached to the Typhoon, with the current Tranche 3 versions said to cost close to $200 million per copy.
|The Dassault Rafale|
Occupying the middle ground between the pricey Typhoon and the bargain Gripen is the Dassault Rafale. Unhappy with the way Typhoon development was going, France decided to develop its own multi-role fighter with less emphasis on air superiority and more focus on ground attack and a carrier launched version. The Rafale is capable of supercruise, and will be available with cutting edge avionics and a much admired SPECTRA electronic counter measures suite. Designed to withstand carrier landings, the Rafale shouldn't have problems operating in less than ideal conditions. Recently, the Rafale has made headlines both for its service over Libya, and its selection by India as the winner of its MMRCA fighter selection competition.
Despite heavy marketing, the Rafale has yet to be operated by any other country than France. India may still decide on another jet, depending on how negotiations go. Historically, French fighter planes are built around French weapon systems and French engines, this may limit future options. At around $90 million per copy, the Rafale is cheaper than the Typhoon, but more expensive than the Gripen.
|Big 'n Nasty: The Su-35 Flanker.|
Big. Powerful. Bristling with missiles. The Sukhoi Su-35 certainly is intimidating. Developed from the Soviet era Su-27, the Su-35 equips cutting edge radar and avionic technology, powerful vectored thrust engines, and lightweight materials. With its long range, supercruise, super-maneuverability, and super sensors; the Su-35 can certainly hold its own against anything else in the air. Designed for service over Siberia, the Flanker is no stranger to cold weather or rough runways. At $65 million per copy, it offers an incredible bargain and will undoubtedly be a sales hit with other (some potentially hostile) countries.
As a Soviet era design, the Flanker is notoriously high maintenance. Its weapon systems and data links would be completely incompatible with NATO standards. The airframe itself makes no concession to stealth. There is also the extreme political stigma with being a Soviet era design. Realistically, the Flanker has little chance of ever entering Canadian service. It should be highly regarded as a potential adversary however, and any Canadian fighter entering service should be able to at least match the Su-35 in combat.
|Made in China: The Chengdu J-10|
There was a time when the Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) could be dismissed as flying either knock-off Russian fighters or outdated Chinese domestic designs. That time is over and China is quickly developing modern aircraft with its deep pool of financial resources. The single-engine J-10 is proof that China has become a force to be reckoned with in the jet fighter business. Although much about the J-10 is still unknown, it should be considered to be at least equal to the fourth generation F-16. China has been very aggressive with developing it further, with an upcoming version integrating an AESA radar and stealth enhancements. With Pakistan scheduled to receive 36 J-10s later this year, it is safe to assume that the J-10 may soon find its way into service around the world, making it another potential adversary.