Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Fantino floats spectre of alternative to F-35 Provided by iPolitics

Talking Heads

The government is at a “what if” stage in planning for an alternative to the F-35, Associate Minister of Defence Julian Fantino told a Commons committee Tuesday.

He also told MPs that representatives from the partner nations of the Joint Strike Fighter program did not receive a specific cost allocation for the fighter jets during a recent meeting at the Canadian embassy in Washington, D.C. earlier this month. However, Associate Minister of Defence Julian Fantino told the national defence committee Tuesday the partners did discuss the cost of the planes more broadly.

Under questioning from New Democrat members, Fantino said there was “some modification to the cost,” but that it was minor. Recently, the United States decided to delay purchase on hundreds of F-35 planes over the next five years.

Fantino would not provide a specific per-unit cost of the F-35, and reiterated that Canada’s $9-billion budget for the acquisition remains consistent. He reminded the members there is still a decision as to whether Canada will enter into a contract for its purchase of the planes.

That decision, should it occur, will happen in 2013.

“We remain committed to the F-35 program and there are some reasons we feel that program will afford us and the other nations the greatest advantage in terms of air supremacy,” he said. Canada has not yet considered backing out of the program. None of the partners have, he said.

Liberal MP John McKay asked what stage the government is now at with respect to planning for an alternative to the F-35 should there be a need for one.

“We’re at the ‘what if?’ stage,” Fantino said, and looking at contingencies for all issues that may or may not play out. The department is doing the “the research and fact-finding” that’s necessary to make the decision.

“I’m waiting to hear back from the experts as to what options will ultimately be available to us,” Fantino said, and will see how things play out in the “not too distant future.” But, he repeated, “We’re committed to pursuing the Joint Strike Fighter program as a partner nation.”

Outside the committee room afterward, Fantino stuck to that new line. Asked whether there had been a change in tone from the government, Fantino said “not really.”

“We’re committed to the program. We’re going to at some point in time make the definitive decision because, as I stated, we have not as yet signed a contract of purchase,” he told reporters. “So I don’t want to be speaking to the ‘what ifs’. We have not as yet signed a contract of purchase.”

New Democrat MP David Christopherson saw it a different way, saying that until this point it had all been “bluster.”

Questions on the viability of the F-35 program “needed to be answered,” he said. “And today, we know why they needed to be answered.”

“I think they’re giving themselves some wiggle room,” he said. “I think they realize they are in serious trouble… ‘Current Plan A’ is not working. That’s what we saw today, a deliberate attempt to start to change the channel. This program is not working. At some point the government needs to be honest with Canadians about what they’re going to do.”

Liberal MP John McKay was just as interested by what Fantino said.

“I think there is a substantial change in tone,” he told reporters. “I see it as substantial… I think [Fantino] had a reality check. There’s a substantial hole in this program and I think minister Fantino admitted the truth today.”

That being the case, he wondered, “Why did they fight an election over this? And why have they been fighting this for three years? Here we are in the year of our Lord, 2012, these planes were supposed to be replaced in 2016 and now we may have a serious operational gap.”

“The reality is he would be negligent is he wasn’t planning for an alternative,” McKay said.

© 2012 iPolitics Inc.

No comments:

Post a Comment