MacKay dismisses 'apocryphal' talk of U.S. fighter-jet woes

Ottawa — The Globe and Mail

Defence Minister Peter MacKay speaks to reporters on Parliament Hill after a Tory caucus meeting Nov. 16, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Peter MacKay says it’s premature to speculate about the future of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program given Canada isn’t planning to receive its first new jet for another five years.

The Defence Minister’s comments to reporters Wednesday were his first since U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta warned Congress the fighter program could be scrapped if Democrats and Republicans fail to reach a compromise on how to cut $1.2-trillion in government spending over 10 years.

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A so-called super committee – made up of senators and members of the House of Representatives – has until Nov. 23 to reach a deal. Failure would mean across the board cuts to federal departments and Mr. Panetta’s warnings were an effort to pressure the committee by outlining what some of the more drastic cuts might look like.

Mr. Panetta’s comments were seized on by the NDP and the Liberals in the House of Commons as a sign that Canada should start preparing a Plan B for replacing its existing CF-18 fighter jets, but Mr. MacKay rejected those concerns.

“This sort of apocryphal language that the Joint Strike Fighter program is coming to an end and that countries are pulling back is not correct. It’s premature to make those kinds of judgments,” he said. “A lot of this, clearly, is brought about by budgetary pressures and Canada, like every country, is concerned about delays in delivery and discussions around the cost.”

The Defence Minister said Canada is in direct discussions with Lockheed Martin, the U.S. manufacturer building the F-35s, as well as other countries that have committed to buying the jets.

“Those discussions are happening,” Mr. MacKay said. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”