Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Other Choices...

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.
Many would suggest that Canada simply upgrade its fleet of CF-18 Hornets to the upgraded "Super Hornet" used by the U.S. Navy and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).  Since it is basically an oversized Hornet, the Super Hornet would have a low learning curve for training pilots and technicians.  Equipped with an AESA radar and other advanced avionics, the Super Hornet can be considered a true 4.5th generation fighter.  It has a longer range than the CF-18.  It's a combat proven design, having flown over Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan.  Its purchase price would be very affordable.

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

Boeing recently showed off the interesting F-15SE "Silent Eagle".  Building off the legendary prowess of the F-15 Eagle, the Silent Eagle promises similar performance in a stealthier package with modernized avionics. With a combat record of over 100 wins with no losses, the F-15 makes a tempting choice.

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.

Eurofighter Typhoon

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.

Dassault Rafale

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.

Sukhoi Su-35

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.

Chengdu J-10

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. 


  1. Hi Doug,

    I've done a lot of research into this area and came to the same conclusion you have: the NG Gripen is the soundest choice to replace our CF-18s. I've contacted my MP about it, but was wondering if there are any other people in government you'd recommend contacting. I've written a short two page essay on the matter, if you'd like to have a look. I could always use feedback.

  2. Thanks for you comment!

    Take a look at my latest post for who to contact. I'd be happy to read anything sent to me!

  3. "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."

    The ASEA radar called Captor-E is due to be integrated into the typhoon in 2015. So this feature won't be missing. What other features are you talking about?

    "With current European Union austerity measures, funding for Typhoon upgrades may be hard to come by."

    There are 7 partners who are interested in upgrades and Canada is free to fund its own upgrades if it wants to. Austerity measures are also going to hit the USA, Sweden and France, so I don't know how this makes any difference compared to the competitors.

    On the contrary, the fact that so many countries have an interest in upgrading the plane means that you will have more upgrades. As of now, the typhoon offers an unrivaled number of options for missiles in the air superiority role.

    "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."

    That's clearly wrong. The typhoon was offered to India for € 80 million. Check it out here:

    If the main role of the aircraft is the protection of Canadian airspace, then the Eurofighter Typhoon is the best option. The second best would be the Rafale, which is more geared to the attack role. The Gripen is a decent plane and you get a lot of bang for the buck, but in terms of capabilities it is behind its European competitors.

    1. I am a huge fan of the Eurofighter Typhoon. If cost was no object, it would clearly be the first choice of available aircraft, and possibly even more desirable than the F-22. Future developments, such as AESA radar and thrust vectoring would indeed make it formidable.

      Although replacing the Typhoon's current CAPTOR radar has been proposed by many, the fact remains that, so far, there has yet to fly a Typhoon with an upgraded radar. With the recent Typhoon purchase by Saudi Arabia, this will change:

      Keep in mind this blog post was published before this announcement.

      Also, regarding the Typhoon's price: Canada's purchase of Eurofighter Typhoon's would be very similar to Saudi Arabia's planned purchase of 72 aircraft. So far that deal is estimated to be $10 billion, for the non AESA radar version. The aircraft are "future proof" and will house an upgraded radar in the future, but costs for this is unknown.