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Tories to seek alternatives to F-35

Dec. 7, 2012, Ottawa - The Harper government is going shopping for alternatives to the controversial F-35 Lightning fighter jet in the most significant demonstration yet that it is prepared to walk away from its first choice for a new warplane.


December 7, 2012
By The Globe and Mail

In an attempt to head off public skepticism that Ottawa’s “options
analysis” is something less than a rigorous rethink of which jet is
best, the government is enlisting four independent monitors to vet the
process.

They will include retired Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, who
led the NATO mission in Libya, and University of Ottawa professor
Philippe Lagassé, an outspoken critic of the jet procurement.

 

The
Conservatives, who have been heavily criticized for selecting the F-35
without due regard for price and availability, are launching this effort
to repair their credibility as stewards of public money by releasing
new estimates that indicate the full lifetime costs of the F-35s have
surpassed all previous forecasts and now exceed $40-billion.

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The
Conservatives announced in July, 2010, they had decided to buy the F-35
without any competition, and for more than a year and a half, described
the jet purchase as a $9-billion acquisition. But in April, 2012,
Auditor-General John Ferguson revealed it would cost $25-billion for the
first 20 years alone.

 

To demonstrate that they are restarting the
procurement process from scratch, Canadian officials will collect
information from other plane manufacturers, including U.S.-based Boeing,
maker of the Super-Hornet, and the consortium behind the Eurofighter
Typhoon.

 

They may also contact Sweden’s Saab, manufacturer of the
Gripen, and France’s Dassault, maker of the Rafale.

 

Next week, the
government will start this process by releasing National Defence’s
updated cost estimates for buying 65 F-35 fighters, and an independent
review by KPMG of the forecast price for keeping the jets flying for
their full lifespan. The planes are expected to last 36 years, and they
should be costed as such, the Auditor-General suggested in his April
report.

 

Sources say the full price of ownership for the F-35 would
add up to more than $40-billion when all costs, including fuel and
upgrades, are included – or more than $1-billion a year over the F-35s’
lifespan.

 

This price, however, will not include the cost of extra
planes to be bought for spare parts. The Auditor-General suggested in
April that Canada would need 14 extra F-35s over 36 years, but sources
say Ottawa believes it will more likely require only seven to 10 extra
planes.

 

The government aims to complete this reappraisal of what
the fighter aircraft market can offer Canada as expeditiously as
possible in 2013. The government is requesting answers to questions,
including: what kind of plane does Canada need? How long can Ottawa keep
its aging CF-18s keep flying? Which jet makers can meet Canada’s budget
and requirements in a timely fashion? Do other jets need to be
purchased as a stop-gap? Is the best plane still the F-35?

 

The
terms of reference for this options analysis, which will also be
released next week, say Ottawa will “review and assess fighter aircraft
currently in production and scheduled for production.” This will include
the F-35.

 

The process will be vetted on a regular basis by the
panel, which will also include former Communications Security
Establishment chief Keith Coulter and former federal comptroller-general
Rod Monette.

 

Government sources say Ottawa has not decided
whether to call for competitive bids to supply a plane and will await
the results of the options analysis.

 

It is apparent the
Conservatives have little appetite for making a decision on a warplane
right now – during a period of restraint when program spending is being
cut – and government sources say the Tories could wait until after the
next election, expected in 2015, before committing to a jet.

 

Separately,
on Monday night, the Harper government poured cold water on a media
report that a cabinet committee has quietly decided against buying the
F-35. “Cabinet has not taken a decision on the F-35,” Andrew MacDougall,
director of communications for the Prime Minister said. The story is
“inaccurate on a number of points,” he said.

 

Canada has signed no
contract to buy F-35s, and while it has signalled to Lockheed Martin,
the manufacturer, that it wants 65, it has no obligation to buy them. It
did sign a memorandum of understanding in 2006 that set the terms by
which a country would buy the aircraft and also enabled domestic
companies to compete for supply contracts for the plane.