Defence Watch has received this from a recently retired RCAF officer. Here is what he writes:
The cheapest version of the F-35 is built to USAF specifications, which means it will be equipped to be refuelled in the air using the boom system which the USAF uses.
Our CF-18s were built to USN specs so they use the drogue and probe system. This means of course that all of our Air to Air Refuelling (AAR) systems (on two Airbuses and five Hercules) are incompatible with the version of the F-35 which is the cheapest and which is (probably?) the version that is the basis for the current cost numbers. In addition, the boom style of AAR requires a specially trained operator in the tanker aircraft, something we don’t have and would have to acquire.
So, if we buy the USAF version of the F-35 we would immediately be without national AAR capability compatible with our newly acquired fighter aircraft. We were without it for a while in the late 90′s and early 00′s when our old 707′s were retired and the Air Force pressed hard and constantly until we spent several hundred million dollars to get two Airbuses modified to provide this capability using, of course the probe and drogue system.
We had also bought five KC-130s in the mid 90′s with the same system, though they are not ideal for refuelling the CF-18s because of mismatched speeds/altitude capabilities of the two platforms and so the push was on to get the system in the Airbuses. None of these aircraft have the boom system and I would estimate it would be technologically impossible and/or prohibitively expensive to modify them.
The boom system is a bit more of an engineering and structural challenge and if we needed it to match the version of the F-35 we acquire I would predict that the Air Force will bring forward the need for a new aircraft with this capability. That said, our Airbuses are getting along in years. I wonder what you would find if you asked about the possibility of our needing a new fleet of Transport/AAR aircraft (something like the versions of the Airbus being built right now for the British) coincidental and associated with the acquisition of the F-35s.
Or, are we just ignoring this issue until the F-35 decision is made, and then we will take up the discussion about Transport/AAR requirements in the context of the new fighter? (end of excerpt)
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