Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Retired RCAF Commanders Flag Pilot Numbers as Weak Point in Liberals' Jet Plan

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Retired RCAF Commanders Flag Pilot Numbers as Weak Point in Liberals' Jet Plan

Article excerpt

Retired generals call for fighter competition

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OTTAWA - Two former Royal Canadian Air Force commanders are raising questions about the Liberal government's rush to buy "interim" fighter jets, saying there won't be enough pilots to fly the planes for years to come.

Retired lieutenant-generals Kenneth Pennie and Andre Deschamps say that defeats the purpose of acquiring Super Hornets as a stop-gap measure, and running a full competition now makes more sense.

"Trying to do a short-term Band-Aid is not going to be helpful," said Deschamps, who commanded the air force from 2009-2012.

"The only thing that's going to work to address the gap is to finish off the competition process, pick a winner, and implement it. Then you can start addressing this gap concern."

The government announced last month it wants to buy 18 Super Hornets before a competition can be held in five years to find a replacement for the air force's aging CF-18 fighter jets.

The Super Hornets are needed because the air force doesn't have enough jets to meet the government's recent order that it be ready to defend North America and contribute to NATO at the same time.

In separate interviews with The Canadian Press, Pennie and Deschamps welcomed any move to increase the size of the air force's fighter-jet fleet after years of budget cuts and attrition.

But they said such an expansion cannot happen overnight, even with the rushed purchase of new Super Hornets, because of the need for more trained personnel.

The air force has struggled to get enough aspiring top guns and technicians to fly the military's 76 CF-18s even without 18 new cockpits to fill.

The personnel shortage got so bad that at one point the air force bent minimum medical standards such as vision and hearing requirements to retain enough trained pilots.

"We're barely producing the number of pilots we need to produce right now for the size of the air force we have," said Deschamps, who as RCAF commander recommended Canada buy the F-35 stealth fighter and has advised several fighter-jet manufacturers since leaving the military.

National Defence would not comment on current personnel levels, citing national security. …

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