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OTTAWA (Reuters) - There is no guarantee that Canada will buy any F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) despite helping to fund development of the new generation U.S. warplane, a senior military official said on Wednesday.
The message contradicted what officials said last year when they told reporters that Ottawa planned to buy 80 JSFs, which will be made by Lockheed Martin Corp.
Earlier this week Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada would buy 65 modern fighters. When asked what kind of fighters, a Harper spokeswoman referred to the JSF program.
But the military official said that although the JSF was "a very good aircraft," Canada would be keeping its options open.
"Canada has not made a decision that (it) would procure the Joint Strike Fighter ... When it comes to the actual decision as which aircraft to purchase, it will be on a competitive basis," he told a briefing.
The new fighters are intended to replace Canada's CF-18s, which are scheduled to reach the end of their working lives in 2017-20. Canada bought 138 of them in the 1980s and now has 98, 80 of which are being refurbished.
The Joint Strike Fighter program is being funded by the United States, Canada and seven other countries.
Asked why Canada might not buy an aircraft it had helped develop, the official replied: "We think that the Joint Strike Fighter is a very good aircraft ... we're really looking forward to the decision process and the acquisition process."
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Galloway