Aging CF-18 fleet up to task against ISIS: Lawson
Published Sunday, October 19, 2014 9:54AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, October 19, 2014 10:07PM EDT
Canada's aging CF-18s are up to the task of combating ISIS, says Canada's chief of defence staff, as the planes and their crews prepare to join coalition forces launching airstrikes against militants in Iraq.
Gen. Tom Lawson says people tend to age an aircraft based on the creation date on its registration card. However, recent upgrades to Canada's CF-18 fleet place them "amongst the finest fighters in the world at this point in time.
"I have absolute confidence that our air crew have everything required to carry out this mission very well," Lawson told CTV's Question Period.
Much of the fleet received extensive upgrades between 2001 and 2010, and the federal government promised last month that further updates will keep them flying until 2025.
Both Canada and the United States have had to keep their older fighters in the air due to delays in the F-35 stealth fighter program.
On Friday, Lawson provided an update on Canada's mission in Iraq, Operation Impact, that calls for airstrikes against ISIS targets inside Iraq for a period of up to six months. Canada's "advise and assist" mission, in which a few dozen Canadian special operations personnel are working with Kurdish forces in the north on counter-intelligence efforts, has also been extended.
Lawson at first said on Friday that all aircraft and personnel should be on the ground before the end of November. He later corrected himself when answering a follow-up question to say that, in fact, Canadian aircraft and personnel will be on the ground by the end of October. He confirmed the October timeline during his interview on Question Period.
Canadian pilots could begin flying their first missions in about two weeks, he said.
Military sources have told CTV News that the first fleet of Canadian fighter jets will deploy Tuesday from the base in Cold Lake, Alta.
Asked about a report that ISIS militants have commandeered Syrian warplanes and are being trained by former Iraqi military officers to fly them, Lawson replied that he only heard that story on Friday and was checking with coalition intelligence to confirm whether or not it's true.
A former CF-18 pilot himself, Lawson said that "there is nothing that would excite me more than perhaps being confronted by an (ISIS) air force."
If the report is true, he said, "the threat that I expect it to present to coalition air forces would be minimal."
Lawson also confirmed that Canadian commanders will ultimately sign-off on all bombing missions by Canadian pilots. Each country is given a "red card," he said, and if its commanders deem a target to be beyond the mission's mandate, they can "raise that card."
On Friday, Lawson said that a pilot has the authority to abort any mission and return to base if conditions change and the threat of collateral damage is too high.
He also warned that airstrikes alone will not be enough to ultimately defeat ISIS.
"Simply bringing airstrike power to bear will not deal with (ISIS) properly," Lawson said Friday. "And there's broad recognition that it will be Iraqi forces who will be putting the pressure on (ISIS) components in the coming months and there is a requirement to bring them to a level of readiness to be able to do that."
He did not say whether Canada would expand its advisory mission to include direct military training of Iraqi forces. He only acknowledged that the United States has been checking with NATO allies about their willingness to join such an effort.