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The Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter is shown after it was unveiled in a ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas, in this July 7, 2006, file photo.

The Canadian Press

An absolutely necessary weapon or an astronomical cost to avoid? The planned purchase of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters has been portrayed as both, and the divide between the two has made it an issue in the current election campaign.

Stephen Harper and his Conservatives say the 65 fighter jets will cost about $15-billion, but Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page estimated in March that the cost will be twice as much.

How much will they cost, and how much is too much? Do we need them to defend against the Russians, and take part in campaigns like the one over Libya right now?

Story continues below advertisement

Winslow Wheeler, a Washington-based defence-spending watchdog, argued that Mr. Page's figures are too low, and that the fighters will cost billons more than his $29-billion estimate - maybe $10 billion more, but it's impossible to say. And he argues Canada should wait till they know what they are buying, and how much it costs.

But there is an argument that supporters from the military make: that there will be no other plane like it. The F-35 is touted as a "fifth-generation" fighter plane, with stealth technology and high-tech communications.

Retired lieutenant-general Angus Watt, chief of the air staff of the Canadian Forces from 2007 to 2009, was been involved in the planning for Canada's air force for several years, and is well-place to discuss its needs. He believes the F-35 is the best plane for the job.

With that in mind, Mr. Wheeler and Mr. Watt joined us Tuesday to discuss the pros and cons of the F-35 purchase.

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