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Debate over Canada's commitment to the Joint Strike Fighter program is intensifying. The July 16 announcement was a suprise to many, particularly since Defense Minister Peter McKay had told Parliament six weeks earlier that "this next generation fighter... will be an open, competitive, transparent process that will see us receive the best capability, to provide that capability to the best pilots in the world."In the same debate McKay was asked specifically whether a decision to buy JSF had been taken. "The honorable member is mistaken. None whatsoever." Not surprised, by the way, was the US government, which had been informed of Canada's announcement in time to paint maple leaves on the F-35 display mockup and ship it to Canada. While the opposition Liberal party has promised to revisit the decision if it returns to power before a contract is signed, former air force chief Lt Gen Angus Watt penned an aggressive, hyperbolic defense of the decision for the Montreal Gazette, arguing that the F-35 is "the only fifth-generation fighter on the market" (which is a bit like arguing that a BMW is the only "ultimate driving machine") and that "a public 'competition' would result in a circus." Watt's comments drew a thoughtful rebuttal from Alan Williams, a former defense acquisition official, arguing that a sole-source buy means giving up an opportunity to squeeze even better terms out of the contractor. "Frankly, it is also shocking that we are considering buying an aircraft without knowing its full life-cycle costs," Williams says. "These costs can be two to three times the acquisition costs. Without this information, how do we even know the aircraft is affordable." If the Canadian government was counting on a Friday announcement (on the eve of vacation season, with Parliament in recess until September) to suppress debate, they may have miscalculated.
ar99, jsf, canada
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