VICTORIA, British Columbia — Canada is hoping to receive the first of its Super Hornet fighter jets by 2019 but still has to hammer out a price as well as industrial benefits, according to Canadian government officials.

Procurement Minister Judy Foote, of the Liberal Party, said negotiations are underway with the US government and Boeing for 18 Super Hornets, but details still have to be worked out. "We're looking to get the best deal that we possibly can, looking at price, looking at capability, looking at economic benefits," Foote, whose department is overseeing the purchase, told the House of Commons on Jan. 31.


Canadian  Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced Nov. 22 that Canada would buy the planes in a sole-source deal. He noted the government had been forced to proceed with the urgent acquisition because a capability gap had emerged with the current fleet of CF-18 fighters. With those aging aircraft, Canada cannot meet its defense commitments to North American Aerospace Defense Command, NATO and others.


Conservative Party Member of Parliament Pierre Paul-Hus called on the federal government to reveal the true cost of the purchase, noting that a CBC News report put the  cost at between CAN $5 billion and CAN $7 billion (US $3.8 billion and US $5.3 billion, respectively).


Foote declined, adding that it would be irresponsible to "negotiate in public" before the contract was finalized.

But Sajjan cast doubt on the figures. "There is no right-now price tag," he told reporters Jan. 31. "Once we have gone through the right process, have all the necessary information, then we'll have an actual price tag."


The figure used by the CBC also includes long-term, in-service support, simulators and other costs.


The Liberal Party government would like to see the first planes delivered in 2019, both industry and government sources confirm.


The Canadian government also intends to run an open competition to purchase a fleet of jets 
to replace the CF-18s on a permanent basis.


Those aircraft are expected to arrive in the late 2020s.


Liberal Party Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had promised that, if elected, his government would not buy the Lockheed Martin F-35, as that plane was too expensive for Canada's needs.


Trudeau's government, however, now says Lockheed Martin is welcome to enter the F-35 in that future competition when it is held.


James Bezan, the defense critic for the Conservative Party, said Sajjan's claim that there is a capability gap with the existing CF-18s was concocted to support the sole-source purchase of the Super Hornet. The country's 77 CF-18 fighter jets are capable of doing the job until a full competition can be held to buy a new plane, he added.


Bezan said the decision to buy Super Hornets as an stop-gap solution will end up wasting billions of dollars and valuable time needed to replace the CF-18 fleet.