Ottawa: Canada on Friday unveiled its most expensive military purchase ever — a multi-billion dollar deal to buy 65 Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jets to replace its aging squadron.
The Joint Strike Fighter jets, developed by Lockheed Martin in a multinational effort that included Canada, the United States and Britain, will cost nine billion Canadian dollars (8.5 billion US), Defense Minister Peter MacKay said.
The purchase will reportedly occur in tandem with plans by the US government to buy 2,443 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II jets.
With delivery of the F-35s set to start in 2016, Mackay said Canada’s next generation fighter jets needed to be “interoperable” with US and NATO aircraft to better fight “shoulder to shoulder with our allies.”
The Netherlands, Italy, Turkey, Denmark, Norway, and Australia are also partners in the fifth generation F-35 program, and Mackay said: “A large number of our allies are moving to purchase this same aircraft.”
But Canada’s opposition, which has been angered by the lack of a competitive process in the purchase, has vowed to kill the sole-source contract if they are returned to power in future elections.
“This multi-role stealth fighter will help the Canadian forces defend the sovereignty of Canadian airspace, remain a strong and reliable partner in the defense of North America, and provide Canada with an effective and modern capability for international operations,” MacKay said.
Canadian aerospace and technology firms will also be able to participate in the development and manufacture of the aircraft and its weapons systems, he added.
To date, more than 85 Canadian companies, research laboratories and universities have been awarded contracts linked to the F-35 jet’s development and worth 350 million dollars (332 million US).
Ottawa has spent 168 million dollars (159.5 US) on the F-35 program since joining the project at its inception in 1997.
The F-35 fighter jets will replace Canada’s squadron of 79 McDonnell Douglas CF-18 (or CF-188) Hornets, purchased from 1982 to 1988. These aircraft are based at Bagotville, Quebec and Cold Lake, Alberta.
The single-engine, single-seat F-35 is to be manufactured in three versions that allow for conventional take-off and landings, a US “aircraft carrier version,” and one that allows for short take-offs and vertical landings suitable for the US Marine Corps as well as as the British Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.
Designing a single frame for various uses was intended to reduce development and maintenance costs of the aircraft.
The jets are capable of both air-to-air combat and air-to-ground strikes, according to the F-35 website.
Canada’s purchase price includes the acquisition of the aircraft and associated weapons, infrastructure, initial spare parts, training simulators, contingency funds and project operating costs.
Maintenance, according to local media that cited unnamed sources, will cost an extra seven billion dollars (6.6 billion US) over 20 years.
Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose refused to confirm the figure, saying the government has yet to negotiate maintenance fees for the jets with Lockheed Martin.
Since coming to power in 2006 promising to renew Canada’s military after a decade of post-Cold War spending cuts, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has unveiled a laundry list of military purchases.
They include three military supply ships, 16 military helicopters, 17 jumbo cargo aircraft and 2,300 trucks to transport troops and military equipment, for a total of 12.3 billion dollars (11.7 billion US).