ARCHIVED - CF-18 Modernization

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Backgrounder / March 26, 2010 / Project number: BG – 10.007

The CF-18 Hornet fleet is undergoing a comprehensive mid-life upgrade to ensure that the Canadian Forces have a modern and interoperable fighter fleet until at least 2017. Various modernization projects were combined in two distinct phases of the overall aircraft modernization program.

The role of the CF-18

The CF-18 is a proven and durable fighter aircraft. Today, Canadian Air Force CF-18s, their pilots and ground crews are deployed with NORAD, and are ready to respond to threats to North America.

In order to maintain the capability to protect Canadian sovereignty, to contribute to the collective defence of North America within the NORAD agreement, and to provide a credible contribution to UN, NATO and coalition-led operations, Canada’s fighter force needed to be modernized. 

Phase I of Modernization

Phase I of the Incremental Modernization Project was completed in 2006 on time and budget. This first phase of CF-18 modernization program entailed the procurement and installation of a new radar, jam-resistant radios, combined interrogator transponders, stores management systems, mission computers and embedded global positioning systems/inertial navigation systems.

The upgrade was based on a U.S. Navy Engineering Change Proposal (ECP 583) and was the most cost effective, minimum-risk method to satisfy the CF-18 modernization requirements.

The Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) was also procured in parallel with Phase I.

Phase II of Modernization

Phase II of the Incremental Modernization Project, completed in 2010 also on time and budget, includes the installation and integration of a tactical data link system, helmet cueing system, colour displays, upgraded countermeasures dispensers, and a triple-deck cockpit video recorder. 

The new state-of-the-art colour displays have significantly improved the pilots’ ability to manage the streams of tactical data received during flight and the new helmet visors display instrument panel readings so that the pilots have continuous visual contact with a target. Full-scale production commenced in November 2006 at L3 MAS in Mirabel, Quebec. The last aircraft was delivered on March 17, 2010.

Other CF-18 projects

In addition to the two modernization phases for CF-18 aircraft, other CF-18 projects are either completed or ongoing.  These include: new air combat maneuvering instrumentation for the weapons ranges; a night vision capability; state-of the-art; networked; air combat simulators; a new targeting pod; advanced precision guided weapons; and a new defensive electronic warfare system. 

Finally, the CF-18 is being outfitted with a new satellite communication system that provides beyond line of sight communication.

Modernization program costs

The entire modernization program, phased over eight years, creates employment and technology development opportunities for Canadians. To date, approximately $2.6 billion has been approved for the program.

The Boeing Company was the prime contactor for both phases of the CF-18 modernization project.  L-3 Communications MAS Canada was sub-contracted by Boeing to carry out the Phase I and Phase II installations at the L-3 facility at Mirabel, Quebec.

Canada is not the only Air Force conducting a wholesale upgrade to the Hornet. The Royal Australian Air Force, the United States Marine Corps and the United States Navy are also extending the life of their F/A-18s with similar programs.  In fact, the new multi-purpose displays were developed as a cooperative project between Canada and Australia, resulting in a significant cost savings for both nations. Boeing sub-contracted the development and production of these new colour displays to L3 Communications Electronic Systems (ES) facility in Toronto, Ontario.

The CF-18 Modernization program provides the Canadian Forces with up-to-date equipment, increases Air Force interoperability with our allies, and enhances CF flexibility to meet future national and global missions.

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