A CF-18 Hornet fighter jet belonging to the Canadian 410 'Couger' Squadron is seen on the tarmac at Naval Air Facility (NAF) El Centro in 2009 near El Centro, California. (David McNew / Getty Images)
OTTAWA — The Canadian government said Thursday it will choose one of four fighter jets in competition to replace its aging fleet of CF-18s “in the coming weeks.”
Critics, however, contend the procurement process — which was reset in 2012 amid complaints of several manufacturers being shut out of it — is rigged in favor of the American Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jet.
Over the past 14 months, an independent review panel compiled the costs, capabilities and weaknesses of Boeing’s F-18 Super Hornet, the Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault’s Rafale and the F-35.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said this week his cabinet would now review the panel’s report, which has not been made public. However, reporters were briefed Thursday on the methodology to calculate the pros and cons of the jets in the running.
“Ministers ... will make a decision on the path forward to replace the CF-18 fleet in the coming weeks,” the government said in a notice.
Opposition leader Tom Mulcair, however, claimed “the prime minister still seems poised to blindly push ahead with the expensive and risky single engine F-35.”
Ottawa started the procurement process anew two years ago after coming under fire over the spiraling costs and an apparent lack of transparency and competition in a process that was focused on the F-35, which Canada had spent 15 years helping to develop.
The F-35 has been touted as a technological wonder and the ultimate stealth attack plane able to evade radar detection.
However, it has suffered setback after setback, notably with troublesome software. It is seven years behind schedule with a budget blow-out of US$167 billion to more than $390 billion, making it the costliest weapons program in US history.
At last count, it involved 72 Canadian companies.
Australia, Britain, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Turkey have also taken part in the development of the jet, along with the United States.
Australia and Turkey are the latest this year to place orders. South Korea is also expected to finalize plans to buy F-35 jets by year’s end.