Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office is denying an Ottawa Citizen report that the country has cancelled an order for 65 F-35 fighters. However, the prime minister' office, while calling the Citizen report "inaccurate on a number of fronts," did say the government is going to update the country on the process of replacing the Royal Canadian Air Force's 30-year-old fleet of first-generation CF-18 fighters. Unnamed sources at both news organizations suggest that semantics aside, the original plan to buy F-35s and only F-35s is dead and there will soon be a competitive bidding process for the fighter contract. Besides the F-35, Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet, Dassault's Rafale, Saab's Gripen, and the Eurofighter Typhoon are considered contenders for the deal, worth tens of billions of dollars. At stake for other participants in the multinational Joint Strike Fighter effort is the potential increased cost of their fighters if Canada does bow out. Escalating costs are behind Canada's softening position on the F-35.
The Canadian government has been under increasing pressure to review those costs and an independent audit of the F-35 program due out next week will reportedly show the lifetime cost of each aircraft, including initial cost, maintenance and spares, to be more than $450 million. Two years ago, the government was predicting it would be half that. Until recently the government has said it believed the only suitable new fighter for Canada was the F-35 because of its stealthiness, but it has been softening that position. Last week, the new Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Tom Lawson told a House of Commons committee that there were other stealthy aircraft available.