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Conservatives vow to speed release of report on CF-18 replacement

A Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II joint strike fighter flies toward its new home at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida in this U.S. Air Force picture taken on January 11, 2011.


Ottawa is relenting to external pressure and now promising to speed up the release of a "public report" on the fighter jets pegged to replace Canada's fleet of CF-18s.

The document, which has been put together for widespread release, lists the risks and benefits of the four fighter jets that were involved in an "options analysis" overseen by the Canadian Forces.

Last week, officials at Public Works and Government Services Canada told The Globe and Mail that the report would only be released "once the government has made a decision on a path forward."

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The officials suggested that the report was still months from being released.

However, the opposition lambasted the government's position in the House of Commons on Monday. Liberal MP Joyce Murray called for a clear deadline for the release of the report, stating the Conservative government has mishandled the acquisition process from the start.

"A public report has been completed, but again, it is being hidden from the public. The government's credibility on the F-35s is completely shot, so today's vague assurances just do not cut it," Ms. Murray said.

After Question Period, federal officials provided another timeline for the document's publication, stating it only needed to be reviewed by a committee of deputy ministers and the manufacturers involved in the process before going out.

"We expect the report to be published in the coming weeks," said Alyson Queen, director of communications to Public Works Minister Diane Finley.

The federal government has obtained detailed technological and financial data on the four fighter jets that participated in the "options analysis" for new fighter jets that was launched in 2012: Lockheed-Martin (F-35), Boeing (SuperHornet), Dassault (Rafales) and Eurofighter (Typhoon).

The government said that the public report will only provide "non-classified and non-commercially restricted information."

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Sources inside and outside government added that the report does not allow for a point-by-point comparison of the four aircraft in the running, but rather describes the risks to the Canadian Forces and taxpayers of the various options.

Sources said the F-35, which is still under development, is performing strongly in terms of its ability to participate in overseas war missions, and its capacity to be modernized over its entire life cycle.

The fighter jet is the newest of the four fighter jets and, with a number of other countries involved in the program, stands to be the one that offers the best access to cheap parts and upgrades in coming decades.

The SuperHornet, sources added, is performing more strongly than its rivals in terms of cost certainty in the short term, including the maintenance budget that is well known as the aircraft is already in operation. Still, there are questions inside the government about the availability of SuperHornets in the coming decades, if new jets are ever needed, given that the production line could be shut down over the next few years.

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