Canada Hesitates on Plan for F-35 Jets
Canada’s plan to buy 65 F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin grew less certain on Tuesday after a scathing report by the country’s auditor general.
While large military contracts are often politically contentious in Canada, the Conservative government’s decision in 2010 to join the United States in selecting the F-35 as the country’s next fighter aircraft has been particularly controversial.
Cost increases and delays in the F-35 program have caused headaches for both governments, and Canadian critics argue that the aircraft costs too much and is too sophisticated for the needs of the country’s air force.
Michael Ferguson, the auditor general, said on Tuesday that his staff had concluded that the F-35 was selected without a “fair competition” and that the Canadian military had underestimated the cost of the aircraft and overstated industrial spinoffs for Canadian manufacturers. He added that the government had not made sufficient provisions to handle increased costs.
“There were significant problems in the decision making process,” Mr. Ferguson told a news conference here. “For this kind of a purchase, a $25 billion purchase, they should have done a better job.”
The report does not deal with the role of politicians in the process. By law, the auditor general’s department may review only the work of public servants.
Initially, the Conservative government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper vigorously defended the purchase of F-35s, at times suggesting that its critics did not have the safety and well-being of members of the military in mind.
But over the last several weeks, Mr. Harper and the cabinet minister responsible for military procurement have been distancing the government from the program.
“At some point we will have to make a final decision,” Mr. Harper said last month. “But obviously we have not signed a contract so that we can retain our flexibility in terms of ensuring the best deal for taxpayers.”