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Prime Minister Stephen Harper visits a Waterloo, Ont, plant that manufactures accessories for the F-35 fighter jet on March 11, 2011.

FRED THORNHILL/Fred Thornhill/Reuters

The Conservative government's purchase of 65 stealth fighter jets, which has been lambasted by the opposition, is taking more heat after an American defence recommendation that delivery of the planes be delayed because of newly discovered cracks and "hot spots."

The director of the Pentagon's F-35 program says the production of Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter should be slowed because of problems that turned up during fatigue testing and analysis.

That prompted more questions from New Democrats, who have criticized the Canadian government's intention to purchase 65 of the jets – at a cost estimated to range between $16-billion and $30-billion – for the contract's untendered nature and escalating price tag.

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"All reasonable people agree the F-35 program has been a fiasco," NDP MP Christine Moore said Friday during Question Period in the House of Commons. "Today it's Vice-Admiral David Venlet, the Pentagon's man in charge of the F-35s. He says the F-35s are riddled with flaws. Why is the Minister [of Defence]isolating Canada from it's allies with its blind support of a failed program?"

Julian Fantino, the Associate Minister of Defence, replied that the government is constantly monitoring Canada's involvement in the fighter program. "As of now, the F-35 program is on track," he said.

Vice-Adm. Venlet of the U.S. Navy said in an interview with the Web-based publication AOL Defense that the amount of change and the costs resulting from analyzed hot spots have surprised the Pentagon

"Most of them are little ones," he said. "But when you bundle them all up and package them, and look at where they are in the airplane and how hard they are to get at after you buy the jet, the cost burden of that is what sucks the wind out of your lungs."

The Pentagon program office confirmed the officer's quotes on Friday.

"I believe it's wise to sort of temper production for a while here, until we get some of these heavy years of learning under our belt and get that managed right," he said.

The Pentagon currently plans to buy more than 2,400 F-35 aircraft in three models, at a cost of more than $382-billion.

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was in Burlington, Ont., on Friday to open an arts centre, said he saw no reason to back away from the contract to buy the F-35s, especially since there are more than 60 Canadian companies who are helping to develop the plane.

"Obviously we are working very closely with out allies to meet that goal and the work continues," Mr. Harper told reporters. "So we are going to stay on track and thus far we feel there is no reason to change the plan."

The opposition, which has been harshly critical of the intended purchase, has also pointed out that the initial operating system won't be equipped with a program that helps the fighters communicate with older aircraft, such as the Air Force's Aurora surveillance planes. And the jets apparently won't be able to communicate in the Arctic.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay, a strong advocate of the F-35, has dismissed growing criticism of Canada's pledge to buy 65 of the planes as "clatter and noise."

With a report from Reuters News Agency

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