The Canadian government formally committed today to buy 65 Lockheed Martin F-35s six years ahead of first delivery in order to qualify national industry to bid for more work in the multi-national programme.

Since the first aircraft will arrive in 2016, the commitment by Ottawa does not need to be sealed by a contract until at least 2013.

By then, Lockheed expects the F-35 to be approaching peak production rates, with one aircraft delivered every working day.

Canadian officials have valued the cost of the acquisition at C$9 billion ($8.5 billion), or about C$138 million per aircraft, including engines, weapons and sensors.

F-35A JSF pair - Lockheed Martin
 © Lockheed Martin

An additional contract for maintenance support is expected to also cost multiple billions of dollars more, but Canadian government officials declined to provide an approximate estimate as the contract remains in negotiations.

Critics in Canada's Labour Party attacked the Harper government for making a commitment on a sole-source basis six years in advance of delivery.

The Department of National Defence had several options. For the past year, Boeing has marketed the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Eurofighter has offered the Typhoon to Ottawa as alternatives to the F-35.

After announcing the commitment, Canada Minister of Industry Tony Clement responded that the F-35 was selected in 2002 by the previous Labour government after the US competition between Lockheed and Boeing for the Joint Strike Fighter contract.

"I am questioning the [Labour Party's] hypocrisy which seems to soar higher than this aircraft," Clement says.

Canadian industry has received about C$350 million in F-35-related work since joining the nine-member international partnership programme eight years ago.

As the F-35 production rate climbs to 250 aircraft per year, Lockheed intends to sign up more companies among the aircraft's committed buyers to handle the extra workload.

Making the commitment "ensures that Canadian companies will have opportunities to compete for contracts," Clement says.

Source: Flight International