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As the USA cautiously navigates the implications of the UK's Brexit vote on its foreign military sales, top American acquisition officials are also bracing for a potential Canadian departure from the F-35 programme.

Canada took steps last week to reassess its Boeing CF-18 recapitalisation programme, which had originally planned to replace its aging Hornet fleet with Lockheed Martin’s F-35A. The participation in the Joint Strike Fighter buy also gives Canada a substantial industrial workshare.

But no official process exists if Canada decides to opt out of the F-35, US Department of Defense acquisition chief Frank Kendall said yesterday.

“There’s no rule in place that if you withdraw that would automatically lose industrial contact,” Kendall says. “But it’s a consequence I think a lot of people will want to talk about if someone pulls out.”

The USA will deal with the consequences of a Canadian exit as they come, but decisions on industrial participation will likely fall to the aircraft’s prime contractor, Lockheed, Kendall says. An exit would not stop any existing work in place or cancel ongoing contracts, although future orders would remain in question, he adds.

Canada has already contracted $750 million in business from the JSF and is poised to benefit from up to $11 billion in opportunities, according to Lockheed.

During the Royal International Air Tattoo last week, Jeff Babione, F-35 programme lead for Lockheed, indicated the company could move industrial participation out of Canada if the government decides on an interim aircraft before selecting the final Hornet replacement.

Canada began distancing itself from the JSF during its 2012 elections, when the liberal party led by Justin Trudeau had promised to axe the planned 65 F-35As and launch an open competition. Last week, the government announced it would examine all options for the CF-18 replacement and kicked off talks with industry representatives.

“I don’t know what the Canadians are going to do, I know they’re still proceeding with the process,” Kendall says. “I think there were some statements made during the election that they have reconsidered.”