The Canadian government continues to press ahead with its contentious plan to purchase F-35 Joint Strike Fighters; but in reaffirming that plan, Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino said March 16 that all options are on the table.
Fantino, a former career police officer whose cabinet responsibility is military procurement, acknowledged the continued global economic turbulence and the budget challenges facing many countries.
He suggested those factors could alter the Canadian JSF timeline. If the program is further delayed or if full-scale production is reached later, the . . . terms of our participation allow us the ability to delay our orders.
That could be facilitated by a further operational life extension of the CF-18 Hornet, which Fantino said would give the government added flexibility while maintaining domestic and overseas commitments during the transition to the F-35.
This flexibility is a luxury that some of our allies simply don’t have, he said, adding that Canada can shift its orders within the production schedule. Our intention is to receive the F-35 when it is most cost-effective and development is complete. And this is currently between 2017 and 2023, but this is something that we can and will adapt in order to achieve the best cost results.”
He also said the government would adapt its finances as necessary to ensure that its JSF budget remains at $9 billion, including a $1-billion contingency fund, to cover not only the aircraft themselves, but also a sto
ck of weapons, infrastructure upgrades at RCAF bases and other associated costs.
Fantino said that by the time the Royal Canadian Air Force takes first delivery of the F-35 Lightning IIs from Lockheed Martin, more than 200 will already be in service with other air forces. The aircraft will have a mature design and will have already undergone years of operational testing, upgrades and improvements with all the bugs worked out.
Fantino also underscored the job-creating potential of sticking with the JSF, noting that hundreds of millions of dollars worth of work had already been placed with Canadian aerospace companies including for key components and structures of the vertical takeoff and landing and aircraft carrier variants, which Canada is not buying.
He said Lockheed Martin planned production run of thousands of F-35s means billions of dollars for Canadian companies with global product mandates.
In Related News¦
The aviation and aerospace communities should be watching closely when the next report by Auditor General Michael Ferguson is tabled in Parliament April 3.
Ferguson office has confirmed that it will include a chapter on the $9-billion plan to replace the Royal Canadian Air Force fleet of aging CF-18 Hornets with F-35 Lightning IIs from Lockheed Martin. Among other things, his auditors have been examining whether the line departments involved Defence, Industry and Public Works & Government Services have exercised due diligence in managing Canada participation in the Joint Strike Fighter program. They also have been looking into how the government arrived at its decision to buy the F-35.
The other chapter of interest covers Transport Canada oversight of civil aviation, including surveillance of air carriers, aircraft maintenance organizations, and airports in the National Airport System as well as the regulatory system responsiveness to emerging safety risks.