(Adds comments by government minister in charge of procurement)
By Randall Palmer
OTTAWA May 29 Canada signaled on Thursday it is
likely to make a decision soon on whether to replace its aging
CF-18 fighter jets with F-35 stealth fighters from Lockheed
Martin Corp or hold an open competition among aircraft
Public Works Minister Diane Finley said on Thursday the
Conservative government will finish its review of reports on how
to replace its jet fighters in the coming weeks.
After running into a storm of criticism, the Conservative
government pressed the reset button in 2012 on its original plan
to buy 65 F-35 stealth fighters from Lockheed Martin for C$9
billion ($8.3 billion) without holding an open tender.
The government has since invited other manufacturers to
provide details on their fighters, and the Royal Canadian Air
Force alongside an independent four-member panel has evaluated
the various options.
"Over the next few weeks, ministers will finish reviewing a
number of reports relating to the evaluation of options,
industrial benefits, costs and other factors," Finley told a
defense trade show.
The central question is whether to hold a competitive tender
or to buy the F-35 because it is the only plane that can meet
the military's needs.
Pressed by reporters as to when the government would decide
what to do, Finley said Ottawa would first review the report and
then see if it had any more questions.
"We want to get this done soon," she said, declining to be
The F-35 is billed as the only fighter that can avoid radar
detection, and advocates say participation in its manufacturing
program will allow Canadians to bid on supplying components for
the thousands of F-35s to be bought around the world.
Opposition parties slammed the decision not to hold a tender
to replace the CF-18s, which came into service in the 1980s. The
government's spending watchdog said the decision to buy the
F-35s had been based on bad data from officials who had
downplayed the costs and risks.
"We always knew this was going to be a difficult decision.
That's why we've taken so much time," Finley said.
Lockheed's competitors promise guaranteed industrial
benefits within Canada if their planes are picked.
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, but no
country outside of France has bought the plane.
- The Eurofighter Typhoon, built by BAE Systems Plc
, Airbus Group NV and Italy's Finmeccanica SpA
. More than 390 have been delivered to a number of
(Editing by Peter Galloway and Marguerita Choy)