Tuesday, August 21, 2012

F-35 jet program funding unchanged despite promised Review

Canadian funding and participation in the F-35 stealth fighter jet program continues unchanged despite the Conservative government’s insistence it has launched a seven-point program to review the controversial purchase.
Steve O’Bryan, Lockheed Martin’s vice-president for F-35 program integration, says the company is still planning its deliveries of 65 of the jets to the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Canadian government procurement and military officials are still assigned to the fighter aircraft program office, the funding continues and plans are still on track to deliver the aircraft to Canada, O’Bryan said.
Canada has spent more than $200 million on its participation in the development of the aircraft so far, according to Defence Department documents.
“We’ve had no change in the program,” said O’Bryan. “I can only speak to the Lockheed Martin point of view and our interaction with Canadian officials.”
The previous Liberal government signed on to a research and development program for the plane, but the Conservatives committed Canada several years ago to purchasing the aircraft, making it a linchpin of their defence policy.

But to deal with the ongoing controversy over the increasing cost of the F-35 and allegations the government tried to hide the real price-tag of the stealth aircraft, the Conservative government says it has launched a seven-point program to review the purchase. Funding for the acquisition of the F-35 has been frozen, it adds.
But O’Bryan said Lockheed Martin has been told Canada is still committed to receiving the aircraft and those will produced during the low-rate initial production (LRIP) 9 period. That production of Canadian planes takes place in 2014-2015, he added.
“They’re still part of our plans and they’re still part of the official profile,” O’Bryan said. “Canada has been fairly specific, at least to us, on the plan.”
NDP defence critic Jack Harris said he isn’t surprised by the comments from the Lockheed Martin official. He said the Conservatives seven-point plan is simply a public relations ploy and it is clear the government still intends on buying the F-35, no matter what.
“The government has been spinning this but they haven’t changed their F-35 plans,” Harris said. “I think Canadians are being taken for a ride here.”
Harris noted that a new fighter procurement secretariat put in place to oversee the purchase of a replacement aircraft for the CF-18s is headed by the same bureaucrats who spearheaded the F-35 procurement plan.
O’Bryan’s comments are similar to those of air force commander Lt.-Gen. Andre Deschamps, who told a House of Commons committee in May the service still anticipates receiving the stealth fighter.
“Currently, from an air force perspective, we are focused on delivery and transition to the F-35,” Deschamps said then.
In an email, Public Works noted that “though the funding for the acquisition of the 65 F-35’s is frozen, Canada remains an active partner in the Joint Strike Fighter Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Concerning the Production, Sustainment, and Follow-on Development of the Joint Strike Fighter with eight other countries. No payments have been made to the JSF program since the announcement of the 7 point plan on April 3rd 2012.”
The email noted that participation in the memorandum of understanding does not commit Canada to buy F-35s.
“While the Seven-Point Action Plan called for the funding envelope allocated for the acquisition of the F-35 to be frozen, it did not call for the Department to remove itself as an MOU participant in the F-35 program,” it added.
The proposed purchase of the F-35 has become a political headache for the Conservatives as the cost of the aircraft continues to rise. The Defence Department originally claimed the project would cost around $14.7 billion but Parliament’s budget officer, Kevin Page, put that price-tag at around $29 billion.
In April, Auditor General Michael Ferguson issued a report that concluded Defence Department officials withheld key information from Parliament about the fighter jet purchase, under-estimated costs and didn’t follow proper procurement rules.
In March, Julian Fantino, then associate defence minister, backed away from previous statements that the government was committed wholeheartedly to the F-35. He said the government was looking at all options to replace the CF-18s and had not ruled out abandoning the project altogether.
O’Bryan said the F-35 program is meeting its test goals.
Canadian generals have claimed over the last two years that the F-35 can outfly and outfight most other fighter planes, making it the best pick for the country’s air force.
But it was only recently that the plane dropped its first weapon in a flight test. The aircraft released an inert bomb.
“It is a big deal and it speaks to the maturity and growing maturity of the system,” O’Bryan said.
He said there are 100 aircraft on the production line and 40 F-35s flying. “We will have delivered 300 airplanes before Canada gets its first airplane,” he said.
O’Bryan said over 70 Canadian firms are working on the F-35 and have received contracts worth over $400 million.
But Lockheed Martin has warned it won’t continue dealing with those firms if Canada decides not to go ahead with the F-35 purchase.

Read more: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/technology/program+funding+unchanged+despite+promised+review/7113847/story.html#ixzz245Y9xqeY

Asian Defence News

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