Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Eight CF-18s Sent on Month-Long Training Exercise despite Reported Jet Shortage

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Eight CF-18s Sent on Month-Long Training Exercise despite Reported Jet Shortage

Article excerpt

Questions raised as CF-18s train in Pacific


OTTAWA - Eight Canadian fighter jets have been deployed on a massive training exercise in the Pacific, despite Liberal government warnings the country does not have enough such aircraft to defend North America and fulfil its obligations to NATO.

The government says the month-long exercise is critical for training Canadian fighter pilots to work alongside allies -- and the planes will return to Canada immediately if they are needed.

But the Conservatives say their involvement proves Liberal claims of a fighter-jet shortage aren't true.

The eight CF-18s arrived in Hawaii at the beginning of July as part of Canada's contribution to the Rim of the Pacific Exercise, or RIMPAC, which has been billed as one of the largest military exercises in the world. Canada is among 27 countries participating in the U.S.-led exercise, which takes place every two years.

The fighter jets are expected to remain in the region until July 29. Canada also has four naval ships, six helicopters, two refuelling aircraft, a surveillance plane and more than 1,500 military personnel participating in RIMPAC.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan's spokeswoman, Jordan Owens, said the air contingent is the largest ever for Canada in the Pacific. The exercise gives Canadian pilots the opportunity to operate together and also to work alongside counterparts from traditional and non-traditional allies throughout the Pacific region, she said.

"We need to train pilots, and they have this opportunity to train with more than 20 other countries," Owens said. "This is essential for having a combat-capable air force."

Yet Sajjan warned earlier this month that only about half of the Royal Canadian Air Force's 77 CF-18s are available for operations at any given time, which was not enough to meet Canada's commitments to NATO and North American defence.

"Today, the number of mission-ready aircraft we can deploy on an average day is actually less than the number of planes we are committed to have ready," Sajjan said on July 9, as he reiterated the need to purchase a replacement fighter jet quickly. …

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