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Monday, June 13, 2016

Lockheed-Martin says not buying F-35 jet would be wrong choice for Canada

By: Daniel Leblanc, Globe and Mail 

Lockheed-Martin is bluntly warning the Liberal government that it will make a mistake if it does not follow the lead of its allies and fails to buy the F-35 to deter Russia and China from threatening Canadian sovereignty.

Pointing out that the F-35 has already been sold to 12 allied countries, one of the firm’s executives said the Trudeau government has every right to choose a rival aircraft – if it wants to make the wrong choice for Canada.

“The world’s best air forces have all decided the F-35 is absolutely superior and offers the best value,” said Steve Over, Lockheed-Martin’s director of international business development for the F-35.

“It’s not my prerogative to question your political leaders, but what do they know that these 12 air forces besides them don’t know?” said the Lockheed-Martin executive based in Fort Worth, Tex.

Mr. Over travelled to Ottawa last week to make his sales pitch, which came amid concerns the Liberal government is trying to avoid purchasing the F-35 aircraft that was so popular with the previous Conservative government.

Mr. Over took particular umbrage with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent comment that the F-35 “doesn’t work” and is far away from reaching its potential. There are already 185 F-35s flying in the United States and Italy, with plans to have more than 600 of them flying all over the world by 2020.

“I’m mystified,” Mr. Over said.

He went on to quote a lieutenant-general in the U.S. Marine Corps who has referred to his current fleet of F-35s as “Jurassic Park.” “His logic is, ‘Anything that comes into my jungle, this airplane kills,’” Mr. Over said.

The Liberal government has promised to hold an “open and transparent competition” to replace Canada’s fleet of CF-18s. Still, there is a sense in Ottawa that the Liberal government could sole-source the contract to Boeing for the purchase of Super Hornets, which is a less modern aircraft, to fulfill the Liberal Party’s election promise not to buy F-35s.

Mr. Over said Lockheed-Martin welcomes a full competitive process by which Canada would select its next fighter jets, saying a full fleet could easily be delivered by 2025, when the CF-18s will be retired. The first aircraft could be delivered some time between 2018 and 2020, depending on the process adopted by the federal government, he said.

Lockheed-Martin officials have sent out warnings that if Canada eventually decides to buy another firm’s fighter jet, the country will lose the industrial benefits that have come from participation in the F-35 program.

The Canadian Forces undertook to buy 65 of the aircraft as part of the program that they officially joined in 2006, but there is no final deal in place.

“This is not a punitive measure, it’s not a threat,” Mr. Over said. “Still, it’s impossible for us to meet our industrial commitments to the seven other partner nations if every nation does not buy the quantity of airplanes that they said they would buy.”