UPDATE 2-Canada to restart fighter search, could buy F-35-source
* Canada's planned purchase of F-35 had hit problems
* F-35 on shortlist with Boeing's F-18, Eurofighter: source
* Panel to study jets, report back by early 2013
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Canada is restarting its search for new fighter jets but could still choose Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35, which Ottawa had initially said it would buy before losing enthusiasm as cost estimates soared, a government source told Reuters on Friday.
An independent four-person panel will study the F-35, Boeing Co's F-18 Super Hornet and the EADS Eurofighter and report back to Ottawa by early 2013, the source said. The panel, which could also look at other fighters, will not make a recommendation on which jet to buy.
The decision marks a determined effort by the Conservative government to end a series of embarrassments after announcing in July 2010 it intended to buy 65 of the Joint Strike Fighters for C$9 billion. The planes were supposed to replace Canada's veteran CF-18s, which will be retired in 2020.
Canada is one of eight international partners helping to fund development of the new radar-evading warplane, but it has not signed a formal contract to buy the planes from Lockheed Martin. Ottawa had decided to proceed with the purchase without holding an open competition after military officials said the F-35 was the only plane to meet all their needs.
The Pentagon's F-35 office declined to comment, saying it is a Canadian issue. Continued...