OTTAWA — Canada has quietly paid another $54 million toward development of the F-35 stealth fighter, bringing its total investment in the controversial project to roughly a half a billion dollars over the last 20 years.
The government is consulting fighter-jet makers, including U.S. aerospace giant Boeing, before launching a formal competition early next year to decide on a replacement for the air force’s aging CF-18s.
The annual F-35 payment was made to the U.S. military earlier this month, the Department of National Defence said and will keep Canada at the table as one of nine partners in the fighter jet project for the next year.
Staying in the program has advantages, as partners can compete for billions of dollars in contracts associated with building and maintaining the F-35. They also get a discount when purchasing the plane.
Boeing officials said Wednesday that the company remains on the fence about whether its Super Hornet will participate in the Canadian fighter competition because of enduring questions about how the government will run it.
One concern is a new provision the government announced last year that aims to make it more difficult for companies that are deemed to be hurting the Canadian economy to win defence contracts.
The measure was announced at the height of Boeing’s bitter dispute with Canadian rival Bombardier, which has since been tossed out by the U.S. International Trade Commission. Boeing opted not to appeal the decision.
“We want to evaluate what the requirements are and the evaluation criteria,” said Jim Barnes, business development director for Boeing Defense, Space and Security, told reporters on the sidelines of the Cansec arms show in Ottawa.
“And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out there’s one new evaluation criteria that we certainly have to understand before we provide a proposal.”