WASHINGTON — A top ranking US senator slammed Canadian Prime Minister-elect Justin Trudeau's plan to abandon the F-35 joint strike fighter, less than 24 hours after elections handed the reins of power to the leader of the Canadian Liberal Party.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who is president pro tempore of the US Senate, called the move "stupid" on Tuesday.

Hatch, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, has touted his own role in bringing the first operational F-35 squadron to Hill Air Force Base in Utah.

"That's to their detriment because it's the most important fighter plane ever built," Hatch said of Canada and the F-35, respectively. "They have the right to do whatever they want to, but it's stupid. If they want to have any kind of flight superiority, the F-35 gives it to them."

Canada committed to buying 65 of the fifth-generation fighters in 2010 as replacements for its fleet of CF-18s. However, in 2012, that buy was paused by then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper amidst accusations his government had lied about the true cost of the fighter program.

The buy has been in limbo since, even as the F-35 has racked up wins in other global competitions.

Trudeau has said he would seek a cheaper alternative than the F-35, with the goal of pushing savings into shipbuilding priorities instead.

Canada remains an industrial partner on the F-35 program, with local companies estimating participation could create CAN$11 billion (US$8 billion) in work for Canadian companies over the life of the jet.

If Canada does look in another direction, Boeing would be eager to supply the nation with new orders of its F/A-18 Super Hornet, while Eurofighter, Dassault and Saab also would likely bid. Given the paucity of big fighter competitions expected in the next few years, an order of 60-plus jets would be a major game changer for any of those offerings.

Email: amehta@defensenews.com | jgould@defensenews.com

Twitter: @AaronMehta | @ReporterJoe

Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.

Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.

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