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Canada: Experts compare new aircraft delay to F-35 planes controversy

Canada: Experts compare new aircraft delay to F-35 planes controversy

Comparisons are being made between efforts to buy new search-and-rescue airplanes and the controversial F-35 project even as the Conservative government sunk another $36-million into the troubled stealth fighter's development Wednesday.

At issue are concerns a Defence Department fixation on one type of aircraft combined with a lack of political oversight is to blame for a decade-long delay in replacing the Air Force's aging Buffalo and Hercules search-and-rescue planes.

"There's a parallel with the F-35s in the (military's) desire to have the most cutting-edge aircraft," said Michael Byers, Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia. "It's DND's fault that they messed up this procurement."

Auditor general Michael Ferguson warned in a report this week that the federal government's search-and-rescue capabilities are in danger of crumbling, in part because its six Buffalo and 13 Hercules airplanes are on their last wings.

In 2002, efforts to replace the Buffalos - first purchased in 1967 - and the Hercules were launched, with money set aside in 2004 in anticipation of the first new plane being delivered in 12 to 18 months.

But like with the F-35, the Defence Department was accused of rigging requirements for the new search-and-rescue airplane so one specific aircraft, the Italian C-27J Spartan, would win.

The military denied it rigged the process, but a National Research Council report published in March 2010 backed up the allegation and called for the requirements to be rewritten.

The project was subsequently taken out of National Defence's hands and given to Public Works - as has happened with the F-35. Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose's office has promised a "competitive, fair, open and transparent" procurement process, with plenty of industry input and other safeguards to ensure "the best search and rescue capability - and the best benefit for Canadian taxpayers."

But new search-and-rescue airplanes aren't expected until at least 2017, which the auditor general has warned is two years after the Buffalos' engines are expected to fail.

Meanwhile, the Conservative government announced Wednesday that it had paid another $36.6 million toward development of the F-35, a required contribution to remain a partner within the U.S.-led program.

Canada has paid $267.7 million to date, but the new payment is the first the government has made since pushing the reset button on plans to purchase the stealth fighter late last year.

The payment does not commit Canada to purchasing the F-35, though all of the money will be lost if the government decides to go with another aircraft.

While no timelines have been laid out, a final report will be produced to guide the government as it contemplates the next step in replacing the CF-18s.

Source: Lee Berthiaume, Postmedia News - 2 May 2013

Photo: The Canadian Air Force CF-35 Lightning II Fighter Aircraft. The Government of Canada announced that the Canadian Forces will receive 65 fifth generation Joint Strike Fighter F-35 aircraft as a replacement to its current fleet of CF-18s. (Photo by MCpl Angela Abbey - CDN Forces)


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