Monday, April 18, 2011

F-35 refueling sparks debate in Parliament

F-35 refueling sparks debate in Parliament

Last Updated: January 31, 2011 6:56pm

OTTAWA — When Canada gets its fleet of 65 F-35 stealth fighter jets, they will all be able to be refuelled mid-flight without buying costly additional equipment, according to Defence Minister Peter MacKay.
The controversial jet purchase came under fire again Monday amid media reports Canada's current tanker aircraft can’t work with the F-35 systems.
Liberal industry critic Marc Garneau accused the government of "forgetting" about the need to be able to refuel the fighter jets in the air during long flights and suggested Canada will have to spend "hundreds of millions" on new equipment.
"It is getting more expensive every day. Today we discover that this plane cannot be refuelled except by paying hundreds of millions of dollars more. How many hundreds of millions more and what else has the government forgotten to factor in?" Garneau said in Question Period Monday.
But MacKay shot back at the former astronaut, saying he was flat-out wrong.
"The F-35 will, of course, have refuelling capability and capacity. Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the plane, has confirmed that the F-35 can handle different types of refuelling systems, including the one currently used by our forces," MacKay said. "Any modification with respect to refuelling will be done within the current budget allotted for the F-35."
He added it's the Liberal plan to cancel the F-35 purchase that would cost "a billion dollars, if not more.
"We have seen this before. We have seen this story and it is a nightmare. It is called the Sea King replacement," MacKay said. "Members opposite, in that case, cost the country a billion dollars and we still have not received those helicopters."
In July, the Conservatives announced they would pay $9 billion starting in 2016 for 65 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter stealth fighter jets. Maintenance of the jets over the next 20 years could inflate the cost to $16 billion.
The first F-35 is expected in 2016 when they will begin to replace Canada's aging fleet of CF-18s.
The Liberals have vowed, if elected government, they would cancel the purchase — what critics allege was a sole-source deal — and hold a public competition to buy Canada's next fighter jets.

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