Ottawa is refusing to release what it calls a "public report" on the strengths and weaknesses of the four fighter jets in line to replace Canada's fleet of CF-18s, stating it wants to make its own decision before disclosing the information.
While the document was recently completed, and it is specifically intended for public consumption, the government plans to keep it secret until the cabinet has made its choice on the acquisition of new fighter jets. Without the document, it will be harder for the public and interested parties to hold an informed debate on the choices that are currently facing the government.
As it stands, government officials have a classified report that includes detailed technological and financial data on the four fighter jets that participated in an "options analysis" that was launched in 2012: Lockheed-Martin (F-35), Boeing (SuperHornet), Dassault (Rafales) and Eurofighter (Typhoon).
The information from the four manufacturers has been ranked on a number of factors, comparing the usefulness of each aircraft in a variety of missions. In all cases, the information is assessed on the basis of the "risk" of each option to the military and taxpayers.
As part of the process, the government has prepared an unclassified version of the document, calling it a "public report" on its website. However, the government does not plan on releasing it until cabinet decides on the way to proceed.
"Non-classified and non-commercially restricted information contained in the evaluation of options will be made public, once the government has made a decision on a path forward," said Public Works spokesman Pierre-Alain Bujold.
Ottawa will face a few options in coming weeks: stick with its sole-sourced purchase of F-35s, hold a competition (that insiders said will automatically lead to the selection of the F-35 based on the current statement of requirements), or start from scratch by redrawing the specs for the new aircraft, a decision that would add years to the process.
Opposition parties are urging the government to redraw the rules of the competition, with both the NDP and the Liberal Party stating that Ottawa is currently overemphasizing the need for the new aircraft to participate in war missions in foreign countries.
NDP MP Jack Harris said he is worried the government's options analysis was done to "justify the purchase of the F-35," and wants to see the public version of the risk analysis before a decision is made.
"If the government doesn't release this report, as far as I'm concerned, they're setting up to perpetuate another sham," he said.
Liberal MP Marc Garneau added that Canada should purchase a twin-engine plane that, unlike the F-35, would have the ability to return to its base in the event of a problem in one of its engines.
"I think if you can have an aircraft with two engines, you're giving the pilots that much more assurance that they will be coming back alive," he said.
Steve O'Bryan, Lockheed's vice-president for F-35 business development, said the fact that Australia last week increased its order for the plane will put downward pressure on the cost of buying the jets. Australia decided to add 58 more F-35s to its order for a total of 72 now.
Ten countries have now placed orders or announced plans to buy the F-35, including, as Mr. O'Bryan notes, many of Canada's closest allies such as the United States, Britain and Australia. "It's a fifth generation airplane. It took the best of F-16, Superhornet, F-15 and F-22 and we added a $60-billion development program to it," he said.
He said Canada should think twice about buying alternatives to the F-35 because other options are older fourth-generation fighters. "Most of the fourth generation airplanes we're talking about were designed in the Nixon administration. So what kind of industrial technology is really in there?"
Mr. O'Bryan said Canada should compare the production schedule for fourth-generation fighters to that of the F-35. "When is that assembly line scheduled to end? Like now? When is F-35's? 2039."