No alternative to F-35 fighter jet, US, Canada say

Fri Nov 18, 2011 4:18pm EST
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HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (Reuters) - Defense chiefs from the United States and Canada said on Friday that budgetary pressures would not derail development of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, saying there was no real alternative to what has become the Pentagon's costliest weapons program.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said flatly he was confident Congress would approve funding for the F-35, which is facing fresh scrutiny for possible cuts as lawmakers weigh how to scale back the U.S. deficit.

Two days ago Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay expressed concern about reports of delays in F-35 delivery and said his government was in direct talks with manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corp.

MacKay, speaking to reporters alongside Panetta at a security conference in Halifax, said his country would press ahead with the program.

"There is no fifth generation aircraft other than the F-35 available to Canada and the United States. So all of the hypothetical discussions, and negative discussions, quite frankly, about this program are really just clatter and noise," MacKay said. "This program is going ahead."

The United States is developing a family of radar-evading F-35s with eight international partners - Canada, Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Australia, Denmark and Norway.

It is projected to cost the United States more than $382 billion to buy a total of 2,447 F-35 models over the next two decades. Other countries, including the co-development partners, are expected to buy roughly another 750 aircraft.

Canada says it plans to buy 65 of the jets, which in theory will start arriving in 2016. It has not yet signed a binding contract.

Panetta acknowledged that the Pentagon was still looking at ways to make the $450 billion in cost-cuts over the next decade, approved by Congress.   Continued...