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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Perry: 5-year search for Canada's new fighter jets 'ridiculous'

By: Graham Slaughter, CTVNews.ca Writer

An expert on defence budgeting says the federal government’s plan to hold a five-year competition to scout out a replacement for the military’s aging aircraft fleet is “ridiculous” and could be done much quicker.

“The question of why we need five years I think is one that hasn’t really been fully answered,” David Perry, a senior analyst and fellow with Canadian Global Affairs Institute, told CTV’s Power Play.

The Liberal government announced Tuesday that it plans to “explore the acquisition” of 18 Boeing Super Hornet jets until it has settled on a new, permanent aircraft purchase to replace the current fighter jets, which are more than 30 years old.

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A competition will be held to allow the federal government to consider a variety of jet models. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the process is expected to last five years.

It’s hardly the first time the issue has been studied, Perry said.

“The air force leading up to 2010 had made a recommendation, after which point the last government was unhappy with how that proceeded, and basically went through a full analysis starting from scratch. This government came in and has done the same thing,” he said.

“So since 2012, there’s basically been four years of looking at this issue. So I just find it incredulous that it would then take five years in addition to this to actually run a competition.”

Perry also cast doubt on the government’s proposed timeline to purchase the Super Hornets, which are considered a temporary placeholder until a permanent solution is made.

“If you look at the past two big aircraft we’ve purchased through non-competitive processes -- our Hercules and our Chinook aircraft -- those took three and five years, respectively,” he said.

Asked whether Canada could receive the Super Hornet jets by the time the five-year competition is over, Perry said: “I don’t think that’s out of the question.”

Perry insisted that the government could slash the competition’s timeline to as short as one to three years.

“I think five years to actually compete this thing sometime starting next spring is ridiculous. It could start today,” he said.

Sajjan: Jets should arrive by late 2020s

Sajjan defended the government’s time-frame, saying the process must be done “in a thorough manner.”

“By having an open competition that we don’t cut corners on allows us to make sure that we can look at every aspect,” Sajjan told CTV’s Power Play. “This is a significant investment, so we’re going to make sure that we get this right.”

Sajjan said the timeline was developed based on the advice of government officials with knowledge of the fighter jets.

“We’d love to be able to move it faster, but we want to make sure that the process itself is going to be thorough.”

But the five-year competition doesn’t mean Canada’s new jets will be in the sky by 2021. Sajjan said the new aircraft will require new training for pilots and mechanics, and the fleet will be gradually phased in.

“It’ll start as early as in five years, but it will take until the late 2020s to get the full fleet in,” the minister said.

The minister also slammed the previous Conservative government for failing to solve the problem while it was in power.

“We should have replaced our jets a long time ago. The previous government should have done this. Our fighters are over 30 years old,” he said. “We cannot take a chance with flying older aircraft.”