Canada mulls buying used Boeing fighter jets from Australia

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada, embroiled in a dispute with Boeing Co over the planned purchase of 18 new Super Hornet fighters, could buy older jets from Australia instead, the defense ministry said on Wednesday.

The Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suspended talks with Boeing over a possible acquisition after the U.S. firm launched a trade challenge against Canadian planemaker Bombardier Inc.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says Canada needs the 18 jets as a stopgap measure until it can run a competition to replace its CF-18 fighters. The CF-18 is Canada’s version of the F-18, a design that is 40 years old.

“In light of Australia recently notifying all allies about their intent to dispose of their F-18 fleet, Canada visited them to inquire about the state of their equipment and spare parts,” Sajjan’s office said in a statement.

“It is too early to provide detailed information about other options,” it added.

Boeing declined to comment. The Australian High Commission (embassy) did not reply to a request for comment.

Sajjan spokeswoman Jordan Owens said Canada had not visited other nations to assess their planes.

Trudeau on Tuesday slammed Boeing’s “unfair and aggressive” challenge against Bombardier, which the U.S. firm alleges is dumping passenger planes in the American market.

Boeing’s Canadian network of aerospace suppliers on Tuesday urged Trudeau to buy the Super Hornets, noting the firm supported more than 17,000 jobs in Canada.

“Our partnership is deep and enduring, but it needs your engagement,” said a letter from 10 firms, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.

Signatories included CAE Inc, Heroux Devtek Inc and Honeywell International Inc. as well as the Canadian arms of General Electric Co and Raytheon Co.

CAE, which has close ties to Bombardier, later noted the letter had not mentioned the Boeing dispute.

Asked for a reaction to the letter, a source familiar with government thinking said the Canadian aerospace sector supported many jobs in the United States.

Australia bought 24 Super Hornets as an interim fleet until it could take delivery of F-35 planes from Lockheed Martin Corp.

Canada’s former Conservative government said in 2010 it would buy 65 F-35s but later scrapped the decision, triggering years of delays and reviews.

Ahead of the 2015 election that brought him to power, Trudeau campaigned against buying the F-35 on the grounds it was too expensive. Officials now say the plane would be eligible to participate in the competition.

Additional reporting by Allison Martell in Montreal; Editing by James Dalgleish and Peter Cooney