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New Fighter Aircraft Project

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The New Fighter Aircraft Project (NFA) was a Government of Canada defence procurement project undertaken in the mid to late 1970s that saw the Department of National Defence (DND) select a single new fighter jet to replace the fleets of CF-101 Voodoo, CF-104 Starfighter and CF-116 Freedom Fighter aircraft in the Canadian Forces.

Several aircraft were considered for the project, which led to some internal friction among federal government procurement staff as different aircraft were favoured among different departments. Despite several changes of government, and after a somewhat contentious selection process starting on March 17th 1976, the McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18 Hornet and LTV A-7 Corsair II were selected as the winners of the NFA project on May 25th, 1979.

Program History[edit]

In March 1976, th NFA Project began. The competitors for the NFA were the F-14 Tomcat, F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F/A-18 Hornet (though it was not called this at the time), Dassault Mirage F1 and Panavia Tornado. The Mirage F1 was eliminated because it's performance was too low, Dassault replied by proposing the Mirage 2000 instead. The Tornado, F-14 and F-15 were eliminated due to being too expensive, though Grumman, strapped for cash, quickly offered to reduce the price of the F-14 somewhat, it was still too pricey for Canada's wishes.

Coming off the victory in Cyprus, programs to rebuild the Canadian military grew rapidly. The NFA program was given a somewhat larger budget, which put the Panavia Tornado and Grumman F-14 back into the competition. The Soviet Union surprisingly also offered up the Mikoyan MiG-23, which the Canadians liked as an aircraft but politically was not likely to be acceptable. The Tornado and Tomcat however were found to be too specialized for the multiple roles that the Canadian Forces envisioned for them.

The Forces, having narrowed the competition to the F/A-18A Hornet, its denavalized version the F-18L and the F-16 Fighting Falcon (with its navalized version, the Vought V-1600).

Rumors began to surface about the Canadian Forces selecting the F/A-18 Hornet to do the job of a new high-performance fighter, and also select the P-3 Orion to be its new maritime patrol aircraft. The twin-engined Hornet impressed the Canucks more as they wished to have a twin-engine aircraft which also has carrier-capabilities, said the rumors.

General Dynamics and Pratt and Whitney, not wanting to see the F/A-18 gain the potentially very lucrative contract, offered to have the Pratt and Whitney F100 engines made in Quebec, a massive windfall indeed, and led to the Premier of Quebec publicly wanting the F-16 to be the winner of the NFA program, because it provided more benefits for Quebec.

This, however, backfired in GD and P&W's faces when Levesque's plans for a referendum on Quebec independence began turning up in Quebec newspapers in 1979. Knowing of this backfire and wanting to make up ground, the companies offered to not only build the F-16s in Canada, but also allow Canadair to have a license to produce them on their own. Northrop and General Electric fired back with a similar offer, allowing the Canadian government the ability to make future aircraft entirely in Canada, with just license fees and expertise deals being paid to the Americans. President Carter supported this idea - he was wanting to limit the sales of front-line US gear to prevent it from falling into Soviet hands, but Canada was about as likely to go communist as the United States was.

While the companies battled, the Maritime Command did its own studies. Their studies found that the F/A-18 would work on Eagle, but it was somewhat large to do the job and would make space kind of limited aboard the carrier, and they began to look for an attack aircraft to complement the Hornet. They also found that two-seat aircraft were better for close-in attack roles, something the US knew through its experience with its A-6 and F-111 attack aircraft.

The NFA program reached its conclusion thanks, indirectly to the Maritime Command. They announced that while the F/A-18 was a great fighter for its purposes, they wanted an attack aircraft. Rumors about the forces asking discreet questions about the A-7 Corsair II began circling.

General Dynamics, realizing this, went to LTV and asked about buying the rights to make the A-7 for the USN and Canadians. LTV said that the company, losing money, could simply buy the company's aircraft divisions. With orders for the F-16 rolling in, the extra capacity was a good idea in the eyes of General Dynamics, and they bought LTV's aircraft division on April 20th, 1979. The next day, they offered to end their objections if the Navy bought the A-7 Corsair II for the Navy.

On May 25th, 1979, the NFA program was ended, and the Canadian Forces announced a $3.1 Billion program. On order were 138 F/A-18 Hornets, including 40 two-seat Hornets, and 54 A-7E Corsair II attack aircraft, all of them two-seaters.

But a back-door situation just about derailed the whole process. On April 1st, 1979, Iran became an "Islamic Republic", to the chagrin of the United States. President Carter's at first cordial relations with the new government went downhill fast, after the new government demanded the United States return the former leader, Shah Reza Pahlavi, for trial. As negotiations over this continued, militant students broke into the American Embassy in Tehran and took some 52 people hostage.

Overnight, some $5 Billion in Iranian purchases could not be delivered, including over 150 fighter jets and numerous warships, tanks and other military gear. For Canada and its plans, it was a bonanza.

On September 15th, 1979, the Canadian Forces made a proposal to the Iranian government for Canada to purchase its fleet of 79 F-14A Tomcats. This broke in the Canadian media two days later, to the shock and disgust of Northrop and McDonnell-Douglas, which had banked on the F/A-18 Hornet deal.

Having been recently re-elected and knowing that they didn't want to be sued for breach of contract, the DND made the decision that if the government could afford it, they would field all three aircraft. Stanfield decided to gamble the total.

On September 27th, 1979, the Canadian Forces announced that the F-14s would be in addition to the NFA program, and that the aircraft would be used to replace the CF-101 Voodoo in the interceptor role. A few pointed out that the Tomcat would be doing what had been envisioned for the Avro Arrow, though the National Post sent a reporter to ask Grumman about how good the F-14 was. That reporter was invited to a test flight by Grumman of a Tomcat, to which he was amazed.

Iran, knowing that it could not get parts for its fleet of sophisticated American-made aircraft and that fixing the Tomcats was far beyond them, were happy to sell. On January 27th, 1980, the Iranian government agreed to sell its 79 F-14A fighters to Canada for $1.3 Billion. Canada's deposit went quickly, and all of the fighters were flown to Canada between February and August 1980.

As soon as news of the sale of the Tomcats was on, the United States offered to also sell Canada the stock of AIM-54 Phoenix missiles that Iran didn't take delivery of, which Canada again took advantage of. Armed as such, the first reformed Canadian Forces CF-184 (the designation for the Tomcat) squadron activated on April 25th, 1981.

The first CF-188 (F/A-18 Hornet) aircraft were delivered to Canada in December 1981, with the last one delivered in December 1987. The first unit to get the Hornet was HMCS Eagle, which wanted to retire and return the F-4s leased from the United States. The refit to allow Eagle to carry the Hornets was done from February-October 1983, and the carrier reactivated with its new air wing on January 10, 1984.

The CA-187 saw its first delivery to CFB Halifax on November 15th, 1980, with the order completed in June 1982. All 54 aircraft were assigned to squadrons of the Maritime Command's Fleet Air Arm. They replaced several of the F-4 Phantoms on Eagle during its 1981 and 1982 deployments, before the Hornets finally allowed the Phantom's retirement in January 1984.

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