Canada’s crazily protracted process to acquire a new fighter has been the subject of another unexpected plot twist, with its defence minister announcing a plan to order an interim batch of 18 Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets.

So, given prime minister Justin Trudeau’s pre- and post-election lambasting of Lockheed Martin’s F-35, that’s it for the Lightning II in Ottawa, right? Wrong.

Despite maintaining its opposition to a long-planned purchase of 65 F-35As, the Canadian government says it wants to retain industrial involvement in the Joint Strike Fighter programme – even though it will hold an open competition before selecting a new type in about five years to replace its legacy CF-18 fleet.

Defence minister Harjit Singh Sajjan has laid the blame for the procurement delay on Ottawa’s previous administration, but his surprise commitment to take Super Hornets and further extend the CF-18’s life while seeking a permanent capability for use only from the late 2020s hardly screams of urgency.

The landscape for choosing a new fighter around 2022 will not change much from today, with the F-35 likely to be considered against more F/A-18E/Fs, the Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon and Saab Gripen.

While Australia will operate Super Hornets and Lightning IIs for years to come, Canada’s interim pick of the F/A-18E/F might be a sign of future intent.