MacKay won't confirm how many F-35s Canada will buy
Published Tuesday, February 14, 2012 8:02PM EST
Defence Minister Peter MacKay refused to confirm Tuesday whether Canada still plans to purchase 65 F-35 fighter jets.
MacKay was questioned about an upcoming meeting Canada has with seven other international partners to discuss the fighter jets, and speculation that Ottawa will reduce the size of its order.
If other countries such as the U.S. reduce the size of their orders or delay delivery, the per-plane price tag is likely to increase for all partners.
"We are committed to giving the Canadian Air Force the best opportunity for mission success," MacKay said, adding that the decision to purchase the jets was made by a previous government.
However a persistent reporter continued the line of questioning.
"Same number or not? Same number or not?" the journalist asked.
"Well, we're committed to buying aircraft that give the Canadian Forces the chances they need to perform mission success," MacKay replied tersely.
He said the upcoming meeting in Australia with Canada's partners in the project -- Britain, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Australia, Turkey and the Netherlands -- is nothing more than an opportunity to discuss the project and pose questions to manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corp.
Canada is also organizing a meeting in Washington ahead of the larger meeting in Australia.
One of the main concerns is that the U.S. will drastically delay delivery of the hundreds of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters it has ordered, as part of massive spending cuts. That will likely mean all the other partners who signed up alongside the U.S. -- and got a price break as a result -- will see significant price increases.
Britain has delayed its decision while Australia has opted to buy upgraded F-18s to get them through until the delayed F-35s are ready. Italy is likely to slash its order by up to one-third and Turkey has cut its order in half.
Ottawa has estimated the 65 jets will cost $16 billion, but critics have said the price could be double that.
MacKay has long said the jets are required to replace Canada's aging fleet of F-18s, and the plan is going forward.
Canada has not yet signed a contract.
In January, Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino said in a statement that Ottawa remains committed to the F-35 program. However, he said he had ordered Defence Department officials in Ottawa to investigate what implications the U.S. decision would have on Canada.