Canadian panel to endorse process for examining F-35s, competitors

OTTAWA, June 10 Tue Jun 10, 2014 5:31pm EDT

OTTAWA, June 10 (Reuters) - An independent panel of experts is expected on Thursday to endorse the Canadian government's process on whether or not to replace old military aircraft with F-35 stealth fighters but not make a final decision, two sources familiar with the situation said.

The old fleet of CF-18s, which came into service in the 1980s, could be replaced by F-35s made by Lockheed Martin Corp , or an open competition could be held. A decision on which way to go could come next week.

To hold an open competition would require the military to rewrite the statement of what they require in an airplane.

The military, endorsed by the government, had originally said it required the advanced capabilities that the F-35 had, and this effectively ruled out other competitors and led to a decision to buy 65 F-35s for C$9 billion ($8.3 billion).

The government scotched that decision in 2012 after its auditor general determined that it had been based on bad data from officials who had grossly downplayed the risks and the costs not just of buying the planes but also operating them.

The panel consists of three retired civil servants and a university professor who had been a vocal critic of the original F-35 purchase plan.

The three competitors are:

- The F-18E/F Super Hornet, made by Boeing Co. It is a proven aircraft used heavily by the United States, but production may stop soon. Boeing says the United States and Australia will still be flying them for decades and Boeing will still service them.

- The Rafale, made by Dassault Aviation SA. France has used it in or over Afghanistan, Libya and Mali. No country outside of France has bought the plane, but Dassault hopes to sign to sell them to India this year.

- The Eurofighter Typhoon, built by BAE Systems Plc , Airbus Group NV and Italy's Finmeccanica SpA . More than 400 have been delivered to a number of nations.

($1=$1.09 Canadian) (Reporting by Randall Palmer in Ottawa and Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing by Grant McCool)

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