F-35 cost bombshell due next week

Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence and Tony Clement walk past the Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter F-35 Lighting II Friday July 16, 2010 in Ottawa after announcing to the military and media that Canada be acquiring 65 JSF F-35s.



OTTAWA -- The federal government's updated cost estimates for the F-35 fighter jet will be tabled in Parliament next week, just before MPs go home for their Christmas break, QMI Agency sources confirm.

The new figure will come from the National Fighter Procurement Secretariat, which was set up after auditor general Michael Ferguson's report last spring slammed a $25-billion National Defence estimate to buy and fly 65 of the jets over 20 years and asked for a full life-cycle cost projection.

A senior official familiar with the secretariat's work says the new figure will predict costs over a 42-year life cycle, resulting in a figure that's much higher than $25 billion because it will include development, purchase, operation and disposal costs.

"It's a very substantive process," said the official, noting that accounting firm KPMG has verified the work.

Still, National Defence officials say they doubt the reliability of projections so far into the future.

Regardless of life-cycle costs, the feds have capped spending on the purchase of new fighters to replace the CF-18 fleet at $9 billion.

Next week's report is also expected to assess projected industrial regional benefits from the F-35.

The NDP continued to cast doubt on the trustworthiness of the report in question period Thursday, predicting the secretariat will make the same mistakes the auditor general criticized in the spring.

Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose responded by reminding New Democrats that many people, including several senior civil servants, the prime minister's national security adviser and former auditor general Denis Desautels, will attach their names to the new estimates.

NDP defence critic Matthew Kellway was not impressed.

"It would take a giant leap of imagination to swallow that this current secretive process, including sitting on the KPMG report for at least a week now, is somehow open and transparent," he said.

QMI Agency has also learned the secretariat's report will spur a "full and substantive" options analysis of other possible replacements for the CF-18, including those that don't offer the same stealth capability, but may be cheaper.

Asked whether he still believes in the F-35, Defence Minister MacKay says his goal is to get fighter jets "as good, preferably better" than the CF-18.

"The aircraft that I certainly "¦ (think) meets that need, there's only one," said MacKay. "People have talked about other aircraft, but what we need to do is get the best equipment for the best pilots in our country."

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