Canada scrapped a controversial plan to buy F-35 jets from Lockheed Martin Corp on Wednesday, saying that instead it would evaluate all available options for acquiring new jet fighters.
The Conservative government - stressing it could still buy the F-35 if it turns out to be the best option - said it would set up an independent panel to look at replacements for the country’s aging fleet of CF-18 fighters, which are due to go out of service by 2020.
“We are pressing the reset button on this acquisition in order to ensure a balance between military needs and taxpayer interests,” Defence Minister Peter MacKay said.
The announcement marks the government’s most far-reaching attempt yet to put an end to a scandal that has grown steadily since the Conservatives announced in July 2010 they would buy 65 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters for C$9 billion ($9 billion) without holding an open competition.
The government said it would give the independent panel a series of detailed guidelines to help it evaluate the contenders.
It also released a report showing the full cost of buying, equipping, maintaining and operating the 65 F-35 jets would be C$45.8 billion, far higher than earlier estimates.
“We are demonstrating that we are serious about looking at all available options to replace the CF-18s,” Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose said in a statement.
The C$45.8 billion includes C$1 billion for attrition.
The cost would be over a 42-year operating life, longer than the 20-year period the government said it had used as a matter of course until now for military purchases. If only 20 years were used, the cost would be C$25.8 billion, said Michelle d’Auray, deputy minister of public works.