Fighter-jet deal critical for all: U.S.
Scrapping purchase could ground air force
Canada’s participation in a massive fighter-jet purchase is critical for all players involved, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday, amid suggestions that a Liberal government could jeopardize the project.
Following a bilateral meeting in Ottawa with Defence Minister Peter MacKay, Gates said he didn’t wish to interfere in Canada’s domestic affairs but that he hoped, “for all our sake,” all the partners involved in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program will “move forward” with it.
Doing so, he suggested, would ensure the interoperability of allied fleets.
“Obviously having all of our partners continue to be with us in this program is very important and I’m pleased at the number of our allies who are going forward with the F-35,” said Gates.
“It is a true fifth-generation fighter, it will give us signifi- cant capabilities, it will continue the interoperability that has been at the heart of our Norad relationship for decades now.”
Gates’ remarks come amid widespread speculation that a spring election may be in the offing.
They also follow comments from Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, who wants the deal scrapped.
The Grits are calling for a new competition to replace the sole-sourced contract awarded to Lockheed Martin, apparently with little transparency.
The purchase of 65 new fighter jets is estimated to cost $9 billion. Maintenance contracts could bring that total to $16 billion.
Since joining the U.S.-led partnership in 1997, Canada has invested a total of $168 million into the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.
The aim is to replace Canada’s aging fleet of CF-18s and MacKay suggested killing the project would have long-term consequences.
Thanks to former prime minister Jean Chretien’s Liberal government, Canada got in early and secured a “preferential position” on price and priority in terms of the production line, MacKay said.
That could be lost if the Liberals now have their way, he said, adding that cancelling the project could effectively ground the air force, as Canada’s CF18s are slated to be taken out of service when delivery of the new F-35s begins as early as 2017.
“We need this aircraft,” MacKay said.
“It is an aircraft that will allow us to face what future threats may exist. . . . Clearly we have a responsibility under Norad, we have a responsibility to Canadians, and we have a responsibility to the young men and women who fly and maintain these aircraft.”
While the deal struck by the Conservatives doesn’t give Canadian companies work guarantees for its own F-35s, they can bid on supply contracts for jets being manufactured for all 10 countries in the program. MacKay suggested that could be “good for the Canadian aerospace industry.”
“We’re looking at being able to supply parts for aircraft in excess of potentially 3,000 or more,” he said.
“That takes us well beyond what is traditionally described as industrial regional benefits that would limit us to the production of about 65 aircraft.”