Support cited for F-35 fighter after joint meeting

Fri Mar 2, 2012 5:35pm EST
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By Andrea Shalal-Esa

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and eight other countries helping to develop the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter underscored their full and continued support for the program, according to two sources who attended a gathering hosted by Canada.

Despite U.S. plans to put off orders for 179 planes over the next five years and a steady drip of news about technical problems and developmental issues, a statement issued by Canada on Friday cited "good progress" on the program.

Julian Fantino, Canada's associate minister of National Defence, hosted a dinner on Thursday and all-day meeting at his country's embassy in Washington, D.C. on Friday to facilitate better communication among political officials from all nine partner countries.

"While good progress continues to be made, we will always be vigilant with our stewardship of taxpayers' hard earned dollars," he said in a statement, underscoring Canada's determination to stick to its budget for replacing its aging fleet of F-18 fighter jets.

He said the program had already resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts for Canadian firms.

The two sources said all nine countries underscored their full and continued support for what one described as the "backbone of allied defense in the free world".

Lockheed Martin Corp is developing three variants of the radar-evading, supersonic fighter jet for the United States and eight countries -- Canada, Britain, Australia, Turkey, Denmark, Norway, Italy and the Netherlands.

Senior U.S. officials sought to reassure the partner countries that Washington remains committed to the multinational fighter development program.   Continued...