Friday, December 2, 2011

Tories face fresh hurdle with U.S. call to slow F-35 jet production

OTTAWA— Globe and Mail Update

The Conservative government’s purchase of 65 stealth fighter jets, which has been lambasted by the opposition, is likely to come under more fire after an American defence recommendation that delivery of the planes be delayed because of newly discovered cracks and “hot spots.”

Production of Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter should be slowed because of problems that turned up during fatigue testing and analysis, the director of the Pentagon’s F-35 program says.

“The analyzed hot spots that have arisen in the last 12 months or so in the program have surprised us at the amount of change and at the cost,” U.S. Navy Vice-Admiral David Zenlet said in an interview with the Web-based publication AOL Defense.

The Pentagon program office confirmed the officer’s quotes on Friday.

“Most of them are little ones. But when you bundle them all up and package them, and look at where they are in the airplane and how hard they are to get at after you buy the jet, the cost burden of that is what sucks the wind out of your lungs,” Admiral Zenlet added.

“I believe it’s wise to sort of temper production for a while here, until we get some of these heavy years of learning under our belt and get that managed right,” he said.

The Pentagon currently plans to buy more than 2,400 F-35 aircraft in three models, at a cost of more than $382-billion.

The Canadian government, meanwhile, has ordered 65 of the jets – a purchase that been the target of opposition criticism because its untendered nature and escalating price tag. The costs of Ottawa’s fleet range between $16-billion and $30-billion, depending on the estimate.

The opposition has also pointed out that the initial operating system won't be equipped with a program that helps the fighters communicate with older aircraft, such as the Air Force's Aurora surveillance planes. And the jets apparently won’t be able to communicate in the Arctic.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay, a strong advocate of the F-35, has dismissed growing criticism of Canada's pledge to buy 65 of the planes as “clatter and noise.”

Earlier this week Matthew Kellway, a New Democrat MP from Toronto, asked the government how many Canadian bases will have to close to pay the true costs of the F-35s after Norway said the cost of its 52 of the jets will be $40-billion or more.

Julian Fantino, the associate Minister of National Defence, that his government's preference is to “put our trust in our pilots and materiel experts who know the importance of the F-35 program, which is producing the 21st century fighter our military needs while at the same time sustaining quality aerospace jobs across Canada.”

With a report from Reuters News Agenc

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