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Lifetime cost of Canada's F-35 fighter jets is $73.9B: parliamentary budget officer

An F-35A Lightning II fighter jet practises for an air show appearance in Ottawa, Friday, Sept. 6, 2019. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS) An F-35A Lightning II fighter jet practises for an air show appearance in Ottawa, Friday, Sept. 6, 2019. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
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OTTAWA -

Canada will pay an estimated $73.9 billion to buy, fly and maintain its new fleet of F-35 fighter jets, the parliamentary budget officer said Thursday.

Yves Giroux said his independent analysis of the procurement project is "broadly in line" with the government's own estimates from January, which said the cost would be around $70 billion.

The acquisition phase will cost an estimated $19.8 billion, Giroux's report said, including $10.7 billion for 88 planes, $2.1 billion for weapons and ammunition and $5.9 billion for such things as design and depot costs, infrastructure and training.

In January, the federal government announced a deal with Lockheed Martin and the U.S. government to buy the jets at a cost of about US$85 million each.

Then-defence minister Anita Anand said at the time that the acquisition cost was $19 billion, and the lifetime cost of the deal would be about $70 billion.

The new aircraft are to replace the Royal Canadian Air Force's aging CF-18s, with the first four planes expected to be delivered in 2026 and the final 18 delivered in 2032.

The government has had to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the CF-18 fleet to keep it flying until then. By 2032, the CF-18s will have been around for 50 years.

It is expected the F-35s will be in service for 30 years at a cost of $53.8 billion, the budget officer's report said.

Giroux warned that a one-year delay in the program would add about $400 million in acquisition phase costs, and a three-year delay would add up to $1.1 billion.

The report did not include the $500 million that has already been spent by the federal government between 2010 and 2022 as part of the U.S.-led multilateral initiative known as the joint strike fighter program.

The Conservative government first committed to buying 65 F-35s without a competition in 2010, but concerns about the cost and capabilities forced it to reconsider.

Then in 2015, the Liberals promised to instead launch an open competition to replace the CF-18s and not to buy the F-35 at all.

The government planned to buy 18 Super Hornets without a competition as an "interim" measure, but cancelled the plan after Boeing launched a trade dispute with Montreal aerospace firm Bombardier.

Ottawa initiated an open bidding process for the new fleet in July 2019.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 2, 2023.

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