This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.
Canada has reduced the number of new fighters it plans to purchase to 65 from 80, and stresses that it has not formally selected the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) despite having participated in its development.
The reduced requirement for new combat aircraft was revealed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper when he unveiled the Conservative government's new 'Canada First' defense strategy in Halifax last week.
The Department of National Defense (DND) says 65 aircraft is an initial planning figure, and that "the final figure will be based on the operational requirements of the Canadian Forces." The requirements are being drawn up by the DND's Next Generation Fighter Capability office.
Canada's participation in the F-35 program has been based on the planned procurement of 80 aircraft, the number of upgraded Boeing CF-18s the Canadian Forces will operate until they replaced by new fighters in 2017-20. Harper said fewer aircraft are required because the new fighter will have significantly greater capability than the CF-18s.
Despite the widespread and understandable assumption that Harper was referring to the F-35, Canada has not yet selected its next fighter, the DND emphasizes. Like several of the international participants in the JSF program, Ottawa plans to evaluate other candidate combat aircraft before making a decision, which is required by 2012.