Sunday, February 21, 2016

Liberals Have Not 100% Ruled out F-35 as Replacement for RCAF CF-18s

By: Bruce Campion-Smith Ottawa Bureau, The Toronto Star, 

OTTAWA—It’s controversial, costly and apparently back on Ottawa’s radar as a possible pick for Canada’s air force.

After ruling out the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet last fall as a possible replacement for the aging CF-18s, the Liberals now appear to be leaving the door open after all.

Speaking at a defence conference in Ottawa Thursday, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan was asked pointblank whether the F-35 would be considered in the competition to replace the current fleet of fighters.

Sajjan pointedly did not rule out the possibility, saying the selection process will be “open.”

“The real issue here is we want to make sure that we replace the F-18 and have a suitable aircraft that meets the needs of Canada. That’s what we’re committed to do,” Sajjan said.

He said the Liberals are committed to a “thorough process” to make sure that Canada gets the “right” jet to replace the CF-18s, which were purchased starting in 1982.

“We’ll build the right requirements for Canada and then we’ll see how that plays out in terms of which companies want to come forward,” he said.

The previous Conservative government had originally announced its intention to buy F-35s in 2010 but then put that decision on hold in late 2012 after the auditor general flagged concerns about the potential price tag.

But during last October’s election campaign, the Liberals declared the F-35 would not be a contender for the Canadian air force. “We will not buy the F-35 stealth fighter-bomber,” stated the party’s platform.

Justin Trudeau said during the campaign that scrapping any purchase of the F-35 would free up “tens of billions of dollars” in savings that could instead be spent on revitalizing the Royal Canadian Navy.

Sajjan also spoke about the promised defence review, which will examine the required capabilities and potential roles for the Canadian military.

Sajjan said some priorities will remain unchanged — the defence of Canada and North America and contributions to international peace operations.

“We have to focus on capabilities, that perfect mix of personnel, training and equipment,” Sajjan said. “We want the Canadian Armed Forces to be flexible, appropriately resourced and able to respond quickly.”

The minister said the Liberals will continue with the increased funding for the defence department acfirst pledged by the Conservatives “but we may want to allocate that money differently.”

He also ruled out any reductions in the number of personnel in uniform.

“In fact, the conversations I’m having right now (are) about where do we need to increase some of the personnel,” Sajjan said.

Sajjan said the review would be done by the end of the year.

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