The multi-billion dollar deal is the biggest investment in Canada’s Air Force in decades, Defense Secretary says.
Canada has struck an agreement with the United States and arms maker Lockheed Martin to purchase 88 F-35 fighter jets, the government said, in a bid to upgrade the country’s aging fleet.
During a news conference on Monday, Defense Secretary Anita Anand said the $14.2 billion (C$19 billion) deal was the largest investment in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 30 years.
“As our world grows darker, with Russia’s illegal and unwarranted invasion of Ukraine and China’s increasingly assertive behavior in the Indo-Pacific, this project has taken on heightened importance, especially given the importance of interoperability with our allies,” Anand said.
The announcement comes as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets US President Joe Biden and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador at a Three Amigos summit in Mexico City this week.
Canada, which has close defense ties with the US, has been trying to replace its fleet of aging Boeing CF-18 fighter jets, some more than 40 years old, for more than a decade.
The first four F-35 aircraft are expected to be delivered in 2026, with full operational capacity for the fleet expected between 2032 and 2034.
A US Marine Corps F-35B Joint Strike fighter jet during training over the Atlantic in 2015 [File: US Marine Corps via Reuters]
The project’s $14.2 billion ($19 billion in Canada) budget includes the cost of setting up infrastructure, weapons and other related expenses in addition to the cost of aircraft, estimated at about $85 million each. USD (USD 114 million in Canada).
However, the full lifecycle of the program is expected to cost $52 billion ($70 billion in Canada), which has drawn criticism and questions in Canada.
“As winter approaches and Canadians struggle to make ends meet, it is irresponsible and unfair for the Trudeau administration to spend public funds on American fighter jets,” the activist group No Fighter Jets Coalition said in a statement in late December.
“Instead, the federal government should invest in affordable housing, health care, education, economic aid and climate protection. Canada’s proposed F-35 procurement is unacceptable and immoral and must be cancelled.”
In 2015, Trudeau also backed a pledge to scrap a plan by then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government to purchase the F-35. Instead, he said his Liberal Party would launch a bidding process to replace Canada’s fleet.
“We know we made the choice to cancel the Conservative government’s F-35 procurement and replace it with a competitor instead [bid] out of the many alternatives out there, we will save tens of billions of dollars over the coming decades,” Trudeau said at the time.
But on Monday, Anand said the F-35 deal would help Canada meet its military obligations at home and work better with allies in the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Defense Minister Anita Anand says the F-35 deal will also create economic opportunities in Canada [File: Blair Gable/Reuters]
“Together, these projects will strengthen our military advantage to keep Canadians safe and they will create economic opportunities for our country,” the Secretary of Defense said.
The maintenance and operations of the jets are expected to provide about 3,300 jobs and add $317 million (CAN$425 million) annually to Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP) over 25 years, she added.
University of Toronto political science professor Nelson Wiseman said it was inevitable that Canada would go for the F-35, especially since many other Western allies had bought the jet.
“Liberals opposed the purchase a few years ago when they were in opposition. They did this because the Conservative government preferred it,” Wiseman said.
“Unlike the Americans, Canadians generally oppose increased defense spending, and the F-35 is expensive,” he said. “The proposed purchase received a public backlash when the Conservatives were in office and the Liberals were looking to capitalize on it.”