The government is expected to give the go-ahead to a project to replace Canada’s CF-18 fighter-bombers with a new generation of aircraft later this year (David Pugliese, “$9B pricetag likely for Canada’s next-generation fighter aircraft,” CanWest News Service, 29 May 2010).
The U.S. F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is considered the aircraft most likely to be procured, although at least one other aircraft is likely to be in the competition.
The 65 aircraft to be purchased under the program, at an expected cost of $9 billion or more, would begin to enter service in 2017.
According to Pugliese, the Department of National Defence has not yet provided an official cost estimate for the program, “claiming that to make the figure public would undercut the procurement process for what is being called the next generation fighter”:
Steven Staples, president of the Ottawa-based Rideau Institute, said DND didn’t want to provide the $9-billion figure because it’s worried about a backlash from taxpayers.
“Their plan is to keep this in the backrooms and try to get this deal signed without anyone noticing,” said Staples, who has spoken out against what he says are high levels of military spending. “The government wants to spend $9 billion on a stealth fighter when this country has a $50 billion deficit. They should try spending a little more on health care instead.”
Staples noted that the cost of the project is creeping up without explanation — at one point the government was going to spend $10.5 billion on 80 fighters; now it is $9 billion for 65. “Who knows what this will end up costing Canadians?” he said.
NDP defence critic Jack Harris, who raised the issue of the next-generation fighters in the House of Commons Thursday, said it is not clear at this point why Canada needs to spend billions on a new fighter jets.
He pointed out that in March, the Canadian Forces received the last of its newly upgraded CF-18 fighters. That project cost $2.6 billion.
An air force study produced last year also noted the need for manned fighter aircraft will decrease starting after 2019 as unmanned aerial vehicles — or drones — and other advanced technologies became more common.
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