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Canada's protracted fighter jet procurement race hits new delay

OTTAWA, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Canada’s protracted effort to buy 88 new fighter jets hit a new delay on Tuesday when the government granted potential bidders another three months to submit their proposals.

Canadian governments of various stripes have been trying for well over a decade to replace a fleet of ageing Boeing Co CF-18 jets, some of which are more than 40 years old. Last July, Ottawa launched the competition for a contract it says will be worth between C$15 billion ($11.30 billion) and C$19 billion.

The deadline for the submission of preliminary proposals had been end-March. But the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that at the request of industry, the deadline had been pushed back to June 30 to give bidders more time to address security questions.

In December 2017, Canada announced it would buy a fleet of older Australian F-18 jets to help keep the air force operational until the new planes start arriving in 2025.

“Here we go again with more Liberal dithering and delaying because of Trudeau’s weak leadership. Meanwhile our air force is stuck with old rusted out fighters from Australia!” tweeted legislator James Bezan, who serves as the defense spokesman for the official opposition Conservatives.

The two main contenders are Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing, while Sweden’s Saab AB is also taking part. Last August Airbus SE pulled out, partly due to what it cited as onerous security requirements.

European jets must show they can meet stringent standards required by the United States, which with Canada operates the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

Airbus and other contenders had complained the government appeared to be tilting the race in favor of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 plane, which the Royal Canadian Air Force wants. Canada is part of the consortium that developed the plane.

None of the three contenders was immediately available for comment.

$1 = 1.3287 Canadian dollars Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Dan Grebler