OTTAWA — The Canadian Forces social-media team might have been flying high over the federal government's plans to buy second-hand jets from Australia, but an errant photo of Boeing's controversial Super Hornet fighter has brought it crashing back to Earth.
The photo in question was posted to the military's Facebook page Tuesday after the Liberals confirmed they were buying the Australian jets instead of new Super Hornets from U.S. aerospace giant Boeing Co.
"We've announced our intention to pursue the purchase of F-18 aircraft from Australia," the post says. "These aircraft will supplement our current fleet until the future replacement fleet is fully operational."
But rather than the 30-year-old F-18s that Canada is planning to buy, the picture depicts the very planes the government has rejected: Super Hornets, which Australia bought from Boeing in 2010 and will continue to operate for the foreseeable future.
The government abandoned its initial plan to purchase 18 Super Hornets as supplemental aircraft, turning instead to the second-hand Australian jets, after Boeing became ensnared in a bitter trade dispute with Montreal-based rival Bombardier.
The error was spotted by several eagle-eyed observers on social media and has prompted everything from chuckles to concerns the government doesn't know the difference between the two planes.
National Defence spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier said officials accidentally posted the photo of the Australian Super Hornets "in our haste following yesterday's important announcement augmenting the fleet."
But while the department expressed regret for the error, Le Bouthillier said it did not plan to remove the post.
"Given hundreds of Canadians demonstrated a deep interest in our nation's security by commenting on the acquisition, we decided to keep the posting online," he said in an email.
"Removing it would have been a disservice to our followers."
The Liberals said in November 2016 that they would buy 18 "interim" Super Hornets to deal with what the Liberals say is a critical shortage of jets until a full competition to replace the entire CF-18 fleet can take place.
The government said at the time that the Super Hornet was the only aircraft able to meet its immediate needs; Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan rejected outright any suggestion that Canada buy second-hand aircraft instead.
But that was before Boeing complained to the U.S. Commerce Department that Bombardier had sold its C-Series jet liners to Delta Airlines at an "absurdly" low price with assistance from federal government subsidies.
Canada will instead buy 18 second-hand F-18s from Australia to deal with what the Liberals call a critical shortage of jets until the entire fleet can be replaced.
While details are still being worked out, Canadian officials say they have set aside $500 million for the purchase, with the first two Australian F-18s becoming available to Canada in spring 2019.
The deal must still be approved by the U.S. government, which originally sold the F-18s to Australia and retains control over the transfer of such arms. Australia is selling its old F-18s in stages as it begins to receive new F-35s, and expects to have them out of service by 2022.