Canada oversold F-35, puts country's role in program at risk

Canadian defense officials failed to inform top government decision makers "of the problems and associated risks" of depending on the F-35 to replace Canada's fleet of F-18 fighters, an audit of the program by Canada's Auditor-General states. 

Defense leaders also sugar-coated the cost analysis of the fighter, the report, released Tuesday, states. 

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That analysis, which set the total cost of Canada's F-35 purchase at $16 billion for roughly 65 fighters was “likely underestimated,” given it was established “without the aid of complete cost and other information," according to reports by The Globe and Mail newspaper.

“We are concerned, because these projections were used to support key decisions related to Canada’s participation in the [Joint Strike Fighter] Program and the purchase of the F-35 aircraft,” the report said.

The report's findings basically put Canada's entire case for buying the F-35 on shaky ground. 

“We are concerned, because these projections were used to support key decisions related to Canada’s participation in the [Joint Strike Fighter] Program and the purchase of the F-35 aircraft,” the report said. 

The Auditor-General's findings come weeks after Canadian Associate Defense Minister Julian Fantino warned that Ottawa could pull the plug on the country's portion of the multimillion-dollar project. 

"The determinate decision has not yet been made as to whether or not we are going to actually purchase, buy, acquire the F-35," Fantino told local press on March 15. "We have not yet discounted the possibility of backing out of the program." 

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday the country will have to re-evaluate its continued role in the international fighter program as a result of the Auditor-General's findings. 

Aside from Canada and the United States, the other JSF partners are the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Australia, Denmark and Norway. 

Losing Canada as a JSF partner could severely set back the program's progress and drive costs on the effort sky high.

Israel and Singapore are also planning to buy the advanced fighter, but are not considered part of the original nine JSF nations. 

Canada's exit from the F-35 effort could also send a chill among the rest of the JSF's partner nations, prompting others to reconsider their commitment to the program. 

Canada is considered one of the program's strongest partner nations, along with the U.K. and Australia. 

Severe defense spending cuts in the United Kingdom already have London throttling back its planned purchases of the F-35. 

The current fiscal crisis sweeping over the European Union has only added more doubt as to whether the JSF coalition can remain intact.