Peter MacKay F-35 thumbs-up

Federal officials are taking pains to underscore how much work has been done in the bid to replace the country's aging CF-18 jets, but say the details of their evaluation will be kept secret for the time being. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Federal officials are taking pains to underscore how much work has been done in the bid to replace the country's aging CF-18 jets, but say the details of their evaluation will be kept secret for the time being.

Members of an independent panel that looked at what fighter aircraft are available as replacements have turned their analysis over to the government.

The panel members stress the depth and impartiality of their assessment, which took 14 months.

In April 2012, Auditor General Michael Ferguson slammed the Harper government's plan to buy 65 F-35 jets, accusing both Public Works and National Defence of low-balling the cost and not doing their homework.

The panel itself does not make a recommendation among the four fighter aircraft it examined, including the F-35, but instead left the choice up to a committee of deputy ministers and ultimately the cabinet.

Panel member Keith Coulter says they had a mandate to be independent and to challenge the air force's information and assumptions.