The minister in charge of procurement is contradicting the head of the Royal Canadian Air Force in a disagreement over whether Canada has enough fighter jets.

Public Procurement Minister Judy Foote says Canada has a "capability gap," echoing comments, by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan 10 days ago, that Canada has fewer planes than it needs to meet its responsibilities to NATO and NORAD.

Foote is contradicting the head of the air force, Lieut. Gen. Michael Hood, who suggested last week, that gap has only appeared because of a recent policy change under the Liberals.

Appearing at the Senate defence committee last Monday, Hood said that change means the current fleet of 76 CF-18 Hornet fighter jets isn't enough.

"The government has announced a policy whereby the Royal Canadian Air Force is required to be able to simultaneously meet both our NORAD and NATO commitments, and I am at present unable to do that with the present CF-18 fleet," Hood said.

"There aren't enough aircraft to deliver those commitments simultaneously."

Last April, however, Hood told the House defence committee that the previous government's plan to purchase 65 new fighter jets "is the correct answer" when looking at Canadian commitments to NORAD and NATO.

On Nov. 25, Sajjan told Maclean's that the Conservatives wanted to buy 65 jets in order to fit the budget they had, rather than the number of planes needed.

'We don't have the numbers'

Presented with Hood's remarks, Foote deferred to Hood's boss, Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance.

"I think if you ask Gen. Vance, he'd have a different view on that and I have a lot of faith in the minister of defence [Sajjan], who of course has been on the ground and knows only too well what the need is," Foote said in an interview with Evan Solomon, host of CTV's Question Period.

Foote said the capability gap her government identified "is something that's existed for some time."

"For a long time the previous government didn't acknowledge the capability gap," she said.

"We don't have the numbers required, that are expected of us, to be able to fulfill our commitment."

Sajjan’s spokeswoman said the change in policy happened the same day as the Super Hornet announcement.

The Liberal government announced Nov. 22 they would enter talks to purchase 18 Boeing Super Hornets as a stop-gap measure to start replacing Canada's 30-year-old CF-18s. Sajjan and Foote also announced they will launch a five-year competition to find a longer-term replacement fighter jet.

The previous Conservative government had planned to buy 65 F-35 jets from Lockheed Martin, but backed away from that commitment after a scathing report from the auditor general found they'd under-estimated the lifetime cost of the planes. The Liberals pledged during the election not to buy the F-35, but now say the competition will be open to any aircraft that meets the government's requirements.

Hood also told the Senate committee the current CF-18s can fly until 2025, which would negate the urgent need to sole-source 18 Super Hornets. Foote disagreed with Hood on that point too.

"Maybe you need to be asking Gen. Hood the difference between him and what [Gen.] Vance had to say," she said.

A spokesman for Hood was unable to respond before deadline to a request for comment.