What Canada needs: Then and Now

The Avro Canuck and Arrow:  What we needed.

Custom built for Canada.  The Avro Canuck and Avro Arrow.

Don't worry, I promise not to go into the politics behind the Avro Arrow (much).  I will refer to the Arrow, however, as a shining example of what Canada actually needed at the time.  It, along with its predecessor, the CF-100 Canuck (or Clunk as it was sometimes called) are the only fighter aircraft designed by Canadians, for Canadians.  As such, they give us great insight to what an ideal fighter for Canada needs to be.

Canada enters the jet fighter business.  The CF-100 Canuck.

The CF-100 and CF-105 were designed and built in the early throes of the Cold War, when Canada's biggest military threat would have been Soviet Bombers crossing over the Arctic Circle.  What Canada needed was a fast, long range, all weather interceptor capable of meeting any Soviet bomber before it got too close to any potential targets.

The Canuck, introduced in 1952, had the range and all-weather capability, but it wasn't exactly fast by jet fighter standards.  Nor did it have cutting edge weaponry, initially being armed with only dumb-fire rocket pods.  It was a tough bird though, and its airframe could handle 20,000 hours of flight time.  It served until the early '80s.

The Avro Arrow, or CF-105, was designed to replace the rather outdated CF-100.  It shared the Clunk's all-weather capability and long range, but added a sophisticated radar, missiles, and the ability to fly mach 2.  Best of all, the thing just looked Canadian.  Big, powerful, but non-threatening with all its weapons mounted internally.
World class:  The CF-105 Avro Arrow.

Unfortunately, cost overruns and the proliferation of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) made the Arrow a political target for the Deifenbaker government.  Development was cancelled and Canada was instead "convinced" to purchase a combination of Bomarc missiles and F-101 Voodoo interceptors from the United States.  Engineers behind the Arrow took jobs elsewhere, and all prototypes and schematics were scrapped for "security reasons".

Canada's nuclear missile:  The Bomarc.
The Bomarc missile was nothing short of total mismatch for Canada.  Designed to carry a nuclear warhead, there was much controversy how to arm it.  Replacing the nuclear warhead for a conventional explosive would have made the missile next to useless, but keeping the nuclear warhead would go against Canada's non-nuclear policy.

Armed with nukes:  The CF-101 Voodoo.

There was a similar problem with the CF-101 Voodoo.  The Voodoo was designed to carry two AIM-4D Falcon air-to-air missiles and two AIR-2A Genie nuclear tipped rockets.

Canada's rather ham-fisted solution was to arm the Bomarc and Voodoo with nuclear warheads that were still officially owned and operated by the United States Air Force.  Canada was now armed with weapons that it had to get permission from another country to use.

To review:  Instead of designing and building its own fighter jets to protect its sovereignty, Canada instead took to wrong step of buying American jets and missiles that required American permission to use.  Thankfully, Canada no longer fields nuclear tipped weapons, but we no longer have the capability to design and build fighter aircraft of our own.

So what about now?

The present and the future?  A F-18 follows a F-35.

The Cold War is over.  Instead, we have global economic instability, terrorism, and threats we have yet to learn about.  Do we need jet fighters?  Do we even still need a military?  Of course.  Canada still needs to protect its sovereignty and it needs to fulfill its NATO requirements.  Canada also needs to be prepared for threats that may be unforeseeable at this time.  Canada is a land of untapped natural resources, there may come a time when we need to defend those resources.  Many of which are still being found in the Arctic Circle.

So what does Canada need?  It's a big country with not a lot of airbases.  That means we need a fast, long range interceptor much like the Avro Arrow.  That's easy.  Most modern multi-role fighters are capable of matching or exceeding the Arrow's range, the addition of drop tanks and air-to-air refueling make it even less of an issue.  Of course, when intercepting a hostile, you need more than range, you need to get to the threat as quickly as possible.  For many fighters, this means using afterburners.  Unfortunately, afterburners drastically reduce range they also make the jet and easy target for infrared sensors.  There are a few jet fighters, however, that are capable of exceeding the speed of sound without using afterburners.  This feature, called supercruise, can give fighters like the F-22 Raptor and Eurofighter Typhoon a huge advantage.

The F-22.  Sonic boom without afterburners.
Of course, you can't engage an enemy if you can't see it.  For that, you need modern detection equipment.  Powerful radar, infrared sensors, and data-links to friendly aircraft are needed.  Modern fighters use Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars which are hard to detect and jam through electronic countermeasures.

Infrared Search and Track (IRST) sensors detect heat given off by jet engines, missiles, and can provide a much clearer picture of the battlefield.

A data-link system works as "force multiplier" letting any linked unit use information collected by any other unit on that system.  This means that if any unit "sees" an enemy, they all "see" the enemy.  It also allows several separate radars housed in different aircraft to be combined into a much larger, virtual radar.

A modern MiG-35 shows off its AESA radar and a IRST dome at the base of its cockpit.

Of course, all the speed, range, and high tech avionics doesn't mean a thing if you can't get the plane in the air.  Most jet fighters need long, smooth runways to land on, surrounded by hangers filled with spare parts and technicians to keep them flying.

Trouble is, sometimes you need to send those jet fighters somewhere else.  Be it for training purposes, fulfilling a NATO requirement, or just showing the flag; sooner or later, you need to land that fancy jet fighter at a less than ideal location.  With only two airbases ideal for most jet fighters (CFB Cold Lake and CFB Bagotville), Canada needs a fighter that has little problem operating out of other bases like CFB Comox, CFB Greenwood, or, in extreme cases, CFS Alert.

A CC-177 Globemaster III lands on CFS Alert's icy runway.
There are a few ways of making a fast jet land on a lousy, or sometimes non-existent, runway.  Strengthened landing gear, tail hooks, drag chutes, and in extreme cases, vertical  or short take off and landing designs.  Canada's current CF-18 was designed from the start to take off and land on an aircraft carrier, so it has little problem in this department.  Previous Canadian fighters like the F-104 Starfighter and F-101 Voodoo used drag chutes.

V/STOLs like the AV-8B Harrier take off and land pretty much anywhere.
Theoretically, a V/STOL aircraft would be a great choice for deployment flexibility.  Realistically, they don't make much sense for Canada.  Short range, high cost, and they require more maintenance than conventional fighter jet.  Aircraft that have STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) capabilities, or close to them, like the CC-130 Hercules, offer similar benefits without the extravagant costs or range compromises.

More than anything else, Canada needs to keep its military equipment affordable.  We don't have the deep pockets of our southern neighbors.  We don't have the resources nor the military ambition of countries like China.  If we did, we would would be replacing fleets of CF-15s instead of CF-18s.

The less of this stuff needed, the better.
A Canadian jet fighter must be cheap to procure, cheap to deploy, and cheap to maintain.

So, what does it all break down into?  Four "F"s.

  • Fast.  For interception duties.
  • Fierce.  Able to detect and engage any potential target.
  • Flexible.  For deployment, within Canada and abroad.
  • Frugal.  Canadian taxpayers demand value for their money.


  1. Your information on the cancelation of the AVRO Arrow is outdated:
    "Unfortunately, cost overruns and the proliferation of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) made the Arrow a political target for the Deifenbaker government. Development was cancelled and Canada was instead "convinced" to purchase a combination of Bomarc missiles and F-101 Voodoo interceptors from the United States."
    It is now known that Soviet intelligence infiltrated and acquired substantial data on the Arrow as well as the Titanium smelting process pioneered in Canada that was used to make key component for the Arrow. The Canadian government was informed of this by U.S, intelligence of this and promptly terminated the Arrow program making sure no Arrow could be "compromised" by destroying all Arrow aircraft.
    The result of this intelligence coup by Soviet intelligence resulted in the MiG-25 built some years later.
    Obviously the Deifenbaker government took a political hit for this and a lot resentment resulted from his actions even to this day.

    1. Interesting take on things there... Could you give me a source where I can read that? I've heard nothing more than rumors about such a thing.

    2. Being from south of the border I can confirm that. The Arrow rarely gets a mention here but the two times I've seen its mention on TV, they both point the finger to an internal mole, specifically someone in the titanium smelting company.

      Though I remain surprised that the order was given to chop them up. Bunch of allied countries wanted the planes for research and it's not like you regain any popularity by chopping them up over letting them fly.

  2. The Typhoon is fast, is about to get the latest AESA radar and with both conformal and under wing fuel tanks has a greater range than any of its competitors. Plus it can go into a fight with the best BVRAAM (the Meteor) and longest range IR missile (ASRAAM) in large numbers even with all the fuel. On top of this after having been dropped by the UAE the Eurofighter manufacturers must be getting desperate for large export orders and the Canadian government should therefore be able to get a very good price.

  3. While your idea jumped out to me as a possible alternative solution it still carries the added weight of the costs of training and technicians (a problem to this day in the F-35 debate) to maintain and operate the Typhoon fighters, which over the pond makes even less sense than importing these lifelines from south of the border. I believe Canada should buy a combination of short-range and long-range fighters from the States and in much smaller numbers. This could potentially include a large purchase of state-of-the-art F-22s and around two dozen F-35s in support roles that could, upon further review be updated to operate efficiently and safely over Canadian soil and abroad. Though a chance to acquire Eurofighter products at lower prices is appealing, it is unrealistic that we would be able to save any money on such large orders of aircraft as the RCAF needs, especially with their vast and complex maintenance requirements. The solution would have to come in a design Canadian pilots are already familiar with, in the form of American aircraft updated and operated to Canadian specifications such as the successful CF-18 project. The F-22 Raptor provides a chance to fulfill our military requirements while getting more bang for our buck as opposed to the F-35, which simply does not serve Canadian needs well. However, from an optimistic standpoint, if some deal could be reached which would allow our government to come out of a transaction without bleeding the Canadian taxpayer dry in a senseless manner then yes, deliver us those beautiful Typhoon fighters! It is a sad reality that there is never any meaningful compromise or innovation in today's economics and politics. Constructs such as these prevent Canada from taking a central role in aeronautical development as it once had during the 1950s. Alas, we shouldn't be so hasty and be patient on this issue.