Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Don't Make F-35 Decision a Political 'Face-Saving' Exercise: Defence Expert

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Don't Make F-35 Decision a Political 'Face-Saving' Exercise: Defence Expert

Article excerpt

F-35 decision remains in holding pattern

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OTTAWA - An independent panel that examined Canada's alternatives to the F-35 is expected to provide a nuts-and-bolts view Thursday of its 18-month assessment, but a cabinet decision on whether to stick with the controversial stealth fighter remains in a holding pattern.

And before making that determination, some military experts say they hope the Harper government considers the wider implications for the overall defence budget, and avoids making a "politically face-saving" manoeuvre.

The panel's report, a market analysis of key responses to the auditor general's 2012 criticism of the program, is not expected to make recommendations to cabinet. Instead, it will compare the costs and capabilities of each of the four competing aircraft against the backdrop of what Canada needs its warplanes to accomplish.

It will be up to senior officials and ministers to recommend to cabinet what course to take, something multiple sources said Wednesday has not been done.

The F-35 program was put on hold in the months following Auditor General Michael Ferguson's report, which accused National Defence and Public Works of low-balling the life-time cost and not doing their homework.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the Commons on Wednesday that no decision has been made, and that whatever path the government chooses will be "in the best long-term interest" of the military.

But Dave Perry, a researcher with the Conference of Defence Associations, said the decision has already become politically charged, and he's seen no hint thus far that the government is considering the broader picture.

The government is also in the process of revising its defence policy, because the previous one -- introduced in 2008 -- is now considered unaffordable.

It would be troublesome indeed if a decision on the jets came before the new policy was complete, Perry said.

"I hope that whatever decision the government makes, it's taken the context of the overall defence strategy," he said. …

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