A Canadian newspaper reported Dec. 7 that the Canadian government is backtracking on plans to buy U.S.-made F-35 fighter aircraft. (U.S. Air Force)
MONTREAL — The Canadian government is backtracking on a decision to buy U.S.-made F-35 fighter aircraft in the face of higher than expected costs, the daily National Post reported Dec. 7.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet is pulling back in response to a soon-to-be released audit by KPMG that puts the lifetime costs of the F-35 program at more than $30 billion, the newspaper reported.
Public television network CBC also said the government was considering other options.
Andrew MacDougall, Harper's spokesman, said on his Twitter account that the National Post story was “inaccurate on a number of fronts,” adding that the cabinet had not yet made a decision.
According to the the National Post account, a cabinet committee responsible for operations decided at a meeting Dec. 4 to scrap the program and go back to the drawing board.
The program now goes to the cabinet's priority and planning committee, which is scheduled to meet Dec. 7.
Harper in February had opened the door to reducing the number of F-35s the government will buy, to stay within budget amid rising costs.
Ottawa had planned to spend $8.5 billion to buy 65 aircraft, or $16 billion when maintenance is included. The development of the stealth fighter, however, has been plagued by technical problems that have prompted some countries to cancel, scale back or defer purchases.
The opposition has accused Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay of sharply underestimating the costs of acquiring the aircraft, which is made by American aerospace giant Lockheed Martin.
Auditor General Michael Ferguson also criticized the defense ministry in April for failing to establish the lifetime costs of maintaining the aircraft.
Canada is one of nine countries that are part of a U.S.-led consortium to build the F-35 fighter. Other members include Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Australia, Norway and Denmark.
Israel and Singapore also participate in the program, and Japan has said it will buy 42 of the aircraft. The United States plans to buy 2,400.