Fantino casts doubt on F-35 plan

Faced with ballooning costs, a series of damning studies, the possibility of a bombshell Auditor-General’s report, and a large public outcry, the Harper government has finally admitted that buying the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter might not be such a good idea (Bruce Campion-Smith, “Canada may not buy F-35 fighter jets, Ottawa admits,” Toronto Star, 13 March 2012):

The Conservative government is admitting for the first time it might not buy the controversial F-35 fighter jet, a project bogged down in delays and spiralling costs.

Before last week, the Harper government’s official line had always been that its commitment to buying the costly aircraft was iron-clad. But on March 13th Associate Defence Minister for Pork Julian Fantino, the project’s designated pitchman, publicly backed the government away from that notion, stating that “[t]he… decision has not been made as to whether or not we are actually going to purchase, buy, acquire the F-35.”

To be sure, Fantino’s statement was far from a repudiation of the plan to buy the aircraft, which remains by far the government’s preferred option. But it may have been part of a process of opening an escape hatch for the government in case the bad news keeps coming.

Rideau Institute President Steven Staples was asked to weigh in on the topic on two national newscasts ( video, “Tories raise prospect of nixing F-35 deal,” CTV News, 13 March 13 2012):

Analyst Steven Staples, from the Rideau Institute, said that Fantino’s comments may have been designed to provide the government with some space on the issue in the coming months.

“They’re trying to create some wiggle room for themselves, if the project continues to go as badly as it’s going now,” he said.

Over at Global (see video link), Staples suggested that the government has a whole host of viable alternatives to the F-35 (Video, “Minister raises prospect of nixing controversial F-35 fighter jet purchase,” Global National News, 13 March 2012):

“There are new F18, F15s, European planes like the Rafale and the Eurofighter. There are all kinds of planes out there that we could be investigating and a whole new generation of aircraft in development that don’t even need pilots.”

Tags: Canadian military spending, F-35, Julian Fantino, Steven Staples