UPDATE 3-Canada starts new search for fighters, may still buy F-35
* Says to look at all available options to replace CF-18s
* Independent panel to be given guidelines for evaluation
* Cost of F-35s, including operating them, would be C$45.8 bln
* Opposition says government misled Canadians
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA, Dec 12 (Reuters) - Canada scrapped a controversial sole-source plan to buy F-35 jets from Lockheed Martin Corp on Wednesday, saying it will now evaluate all available options for acquiring new fighters.
The announcement is another challenge for the F-35, which has been hit by cost overruns and delays and at $396 billion is the costliest program in Pentagon procurement history.
Canada's Conservative government - stressing it could still buy the F-35 if it turns out to be the best option - will set up an independent panel to look at replacements for an aging fleet of CF-18 fighters, which are due to go out of service by 2020.
"We are pressing the reset button on this acquisition in order to ensure a balance between military needs and taxpayer interests," Defence Minister Peter MacKay told reporters. Continued...