OTTAWA: In what may be another blow for Lockheed Martin’s hopes of selling F-35 fighter jets to Canada, the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday that it would buy 18 F-18s from Boeing as a stopgap while it spends up to five years considering a long-term replacement for its aging fighter fleet.
The previous Conservative government announced in 2010 that it would buy 65 F-35s. But two years later it backtracked and began a review after an independent audit found that the Lockheed Martin fighters would cost far more than anticipated: $45.8 billion to buy and operate the planes over a 42-year life span.
During last year’s election campaign, Mr. Trudeau pledged he would not buy the radar-evading F-35, which has become one of the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons programs in history. Instead, he promised to find a more economical alternative.
On Tuesday, Mr. Trudeau’s government did not go that far, perhaps out of concern that excluding Lockheed Martin from bidding could lead to legal challenges. Harjit Sajjan, the defense minister, said Canada would continue to be a member of an international group of nations contributing to the development of the F-35. Judy Foote, the minister in charge of procurement, said Lockheed Martin could renew its sales pitches during the long-term review.
If it takes a full five years, that review will not conclude until after the next federal election in Canada.
The latest version of the F-18 has been widely seen as the F-35’s chief competitor in any sale to Canada. Mr. Sajjan said the 18 fighters would allow Canada to retire the oldest airplanes in its fleet, which is made up entirely of CF-18s, the Canadian variant of the F-18. With the infusion of new aircraft, Mr. Sajjan said, the CF-18 fleet should continue flying until the end of the next decade.
“The interim fleet provides the most effective way forward to help ensure Canada remains a credible and dependable ally,” Mr. Sajjan said after repeatedly criticizing the Conservatives for delaying the acquisition of a long-term replacement for the nation’s fighter jets. The Liberals’ new review, though, will further extend that process.
David Perry, a senior analyst at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute in Ottawa, said technology differences with the new F-18s meant that the government would also have to acquire additional service equipment and other infrastructure.