Canada's move to buy F-35 jets flawed: watchdog

Tue Apr 3, 2012 7:52pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's decision to buy F-35 fighter jets was based on bad data from officials who deliberately downplayed the costs and risks, the government's spending watchdog said on Tuesday, further tainting a project that is already delayed and well over budget.

The report by Auditor-General Michael Ferguson is an embarrassment for the Conservative government, which announced in July 2010 that it would buy 65 of the fifth generation Joint Strike Fighters made by Lockheed Martin.

Ottawa did not hold a competition for the new planes, which are due to replace Canada's ageing fleet of CF-18 fighters.

Ferguson said military officials had decided as long ago as 2006 to go with the F-35. They provided ministers and Parliamentarians with misleading information which understated the problems the program was experiencing and provided artificially low cost estimates.

"National Defence did not exercise due diligence in managing the process to replace the CF-18 jets," he said.

"There were significant weaknesses in the decision-making process used by National Defence in acquiring the F-35 ... key decisions were made without required approvals or supporting documentation."

The government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper regularly used the overly upbeat reports from the military to dismiss opposition complaints about problems with the F-35.

"The key question to the prime minister is: how could he allow Parliament to be intentionally misled on the F-35s? Either he knew, and it's unconscionable, or he didn't know, and it's incompetence. Which is it?" said Thomas Mulcair, leader of the official opposition New Democrats.   Continued...

Canada's Auditor General Michael Ferguson speaks during a news conference on the release of his report in Ottawa April 3, 2012. REUTERS/Chris Wattie