Canada's new defence chief cautious on F-35 despite party pledge

Fri Nov 20, 2015 7:59pm EST
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By Phil Stewart

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia Nov 20 (Reuters) - Canada's new Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan on Friday said it was premature to discuss which aircraft would replace Canada's aging CF-18 fighter jets, caution that just might offer a glimmer of hope to Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35 fighter jet.

Sajjan's Liberal Party pledged in its campaign to scrap planned F-35 purchases.

But in an interview with Reuters, Sajjan said his fledgling government was still working to determine its requirements for the next jet and insisted the selection process would be "open and transparent."

"I'm focused on the requirements that we need ... as a nation that works with our allies as well, with NATO and our NORAD commitments," Sajjan told Reuters, referring to the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

Sajjan, a former police officer and veteran of military deployments to Afghanistan, said it would be "premature" to talk about the F-35.

He spoke at the Halifax International Security Forum shortly after meeting Deputy U.S. Defense Secretary Bob Work and said he delivered a similar message in private.

"I told the Deputy Secretary the same thing. I want to focus on making sure we have the right aircraft for Canada," Sajjan said, without elaborating.

New Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the F-35 "didn't come up" after his first formal meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday in the Philippines.   Continued...