Canada fighters to cost billions more - watchdog

Thu Mar 10, 2011 5:59pm EST
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By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canada's planned purchase of 65 fighter jets will cost billions more than government has projected, according to a report released on Thursday amid speculation the country will soon face an election.

Opposition parties seized on Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page's report, saying it was evidence the Conservative government was misleading voters about the multibillion-dollar deal with Lockheed Martin Corp.

The watchdog's report came a day after the Conservatives were reprimanded for refusing to release financial details of planned prison construction projects that the opposition also says will cost much more than the government maintains.

The budget office estimates it will cost C$29.3 billion to build and maintain the 65 F-35 jets over the next 30 years, a significantly higher tag than C$16 billion to C$18 billion the government has forecast.

The planes are expected to cost C$9 billion to build, but the budget office said after reviewing historical information it determined the cost of maintaining the aircraft will be much higher than the government has publicly estimated.

The military said Page's use of historical data produced inaccurate results and added he had estimated maintenance costs over too long a period.

"We stand by our estimates ... (our) data reflects detailed and sensitive work over 10 years," Defense Department procurement official Dan Ross told reporters.

The government said in July it planned to buy the aircraft, developed under the Joint Strike Fighter program.   Continued...

<p>Canada's Defence Minister Peter MacKay (R) and Industry Minister Tony Clement walk in front of a F-35 Joint Strike Fighter during a news conference in Ottawa July 16, 2010. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>