Politics

DND denies F-35 flaw claims

The Canadian military is denying a media report that there are flaws in the F-35 stealth fighter jets the Conservative government has agreed to spend billions to purchase.

Landing on North's air strips 'absolutely no problem': air force

The Canadian military is denying a media report that there are flaws in the F-35 stealth fighter jets the Conservative government has agreed to spend billions to purchase.

A F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is seen in the hangar prior to an announcement by Defence Minister Peter MacKay in Ottawa in October. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))
A published report in Monday's Ottawa Citizen quotes unnamed sources as saying the F-35s cannot be refuelled mid-air with existing air force equipment and can't land on short runways in Canada's North without costly changes. 

Department of National Defence staff criss-crossed the country on Monday, pitching the need for the jets to local reporters from Vancouver to Halifax.

Maj.-Gen. Tom Lawson, assistant chief of the air staff, told CBC News in Mississauga, Ont., that he wants to "de-lie" many myths floating around about the F-35s.

"It's important to us that Canadians have the facts," Lawson said. "Landing on airports up in the North is absolutely no problem at all." 

The Ottawa Citizen report also said DND officials were looking at having the F-35 manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, install a "drag" parachute on the aircraft to slow them down when they land on short runways.

Canada agreed late last year to spend $16 billion to purchase up to 65 F-35s — the biggest single military purchase in the country's history.

The Conservatives have defended the purchase, saying they are the only aircraft to meet the future needs of Canada's military and will also result in $12 billion in spinoff contracts for the country's aviation industry.

The Opposition Liberals have pledged to cancel the contract if elected to form a government. Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff vowed to open a competitive bidding process for replacing Canada's aging fleet of CF-18s, which were recently refurbished.

Liberal MP Marc Garneau, his party's industry, science and technology critic, raised the report in the Commons on Monday to accuse Defence Minister Peter MacKay of misleading Canadians on how much the jets will cost.  

"It's getting more expensive every day," Garneau told the House. "Today we discovered that his plane can't be refuelled except by paying hundreds of millions of dollars more. How many hundreds more?"

MacKay replied that any modifications for refuelling will be done within the current budget for the F-35s.

Aviation expert Bill Sweetman said he believes neither the landing nor refuelling issues constitute the biggest problems facing the F-35 program.

Sweetman, the editor-in-chief of Defense Technology, told CBC News the F-35 has been plagued with delays and he doesn't know whether the jet will be delivered on time.