OTTAWA, June 12 An independent panel of experts
endorsed on Thursday the method used by the Canadian government
to evaluate whether it should replace its aging fleet of fighter
jets with F-35 stealth fighters, setting the stage for a final
decision on the multibillion-dollar acquisition program.
The panel said the government's evaluation process was
conducted professionally and was not biased in favor of any
aircraft. The endorsement, however, does not indicate whether
the government will choose the F-35s made by Lockheed Martin
Corp to replace its fleet of CF-18 fighters or whether
it will hold an open competition.
That decision could come as early as next week.
Ottawa announced in 2010 it would buy 65 F-35s, but scrapped
the decision in late 2012 after an official watchdog said
officials had grossly downplayed the cost of maintaining and
operating the jets.
The government then launched a multi-agency examination to
determine whether to proceed with the F-35 purchase, worth an
estimated C$9 billion ($8.3 billion), or launch a competition.
(Reporting by Cameron French; Editing by Peter Galloway)