The chief of the defence staff says he is keeping the F-35 fighter jet on the table as suitable option to bolster the air force's fleet, despite the Liberals' campaign promise not to buy the jet.

"The most critical thing for me, as I look to the long term health and capacity of the institution, is that very important commitment to an open competition with no barriers to that competition," Gen. Jonathan Vance, told Chris Hall, host of CBC Radio's The House.

The Liberal government's new defence plan says the government will buy 88 new fighter jets, up from the 65 pledged by the previous Conservative government.

But it's not clear what type of planes the military will end up getting. The Liberals' have previously ruled out the F-35 and an ongoing trade spat between Bombardier and Boeing, the makers of the Super Hornet, suggest buying from Boeing could be challenging. 

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced a plans to buy 18 Super Hornets as an interim measure until the rest of the fleet could be fully replaced. But the Liberals' new defence policy makes no reference to that pledge and simply says the existing squadrons will be replaced through an open competition.

The defence plan calls for a "fighter fleet that is capable, upgradeable, resilient and interoperable with our allies and partners to ensure Canada continues to meet its Norad and NATO commitments."

When asked if the open competition would include Lockheed Martin's F-35, Vance said it does.

Defence Policy 20170608

Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance, shown here in his office in Ottawa, says the open competition to replace Canada's fighter jets will include "all of the planes" capable of performing the role. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

"It includes all of the planes. It includes the Super Hornet, the F-35 , all of the planes. That's a good thing so we can actually see what planes are going to provide us the operational advantage that we need as we defend Canada and operate globally," he said.

The F-35 program has been embroiled in controversy since the Conservative government announced its intention to purchase them in 2010.

The Conservative government had planned on purchasing 65 F-35s for the Royal Canadian Air Force but the procurement process was put on hold when the auditor general accused the government of fudging the project's costs and not doing sufficient research.