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Editorials Globe editorial: Canada’s incurable case of fighter-jet lag

At this point in Canadian history, it has become a real challenge to put one's faith in Ottawa's ability to purchase modern fighter jets.

Our air force has an aging fleet of CF-18s purchased in the 1980s, and of which about 80 are still operational. That may or may not be adequate for fulfilling all of our military obligations, depending on whom you ask.

The Conservative government of Stephen Harper wanted to replace the CF-18s with 65 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning IIs, but its sole-source procurement process was so botched that the cost ballooned from $9-billion to $45-billion, and Ottawa had to start over again.

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The Trudeau government came to power with the promise of a new and better competitive bidding process. It also said it would fill interim operational gaps by purchasing 18 Boeing Super Hornets, a sole-source contract worth $6.4-billion.

Then, in April, Boeing launched a (so far) successful trade dispute against Bombardier. So Ottawa said on Tuesday that it is cancelling the Hornet deal in retaliation and instead will buy used F-18s from Australia for at least $500-million.

The government also said it will formally launch its bidding process in 2019, with the goal of awarding a contract in 2022 and getting planes delivered by 2025. One caveat: The contract will not go to a company "that is responsible for harm to Canada's economic interest" [cough cough Boeing].

So that's where we are. If the Conservatives hadn't made a mess of things, we'd have brand new fighter jets in the air by now. Instead, our aging fleet will be bolstered by Australian leftovers – not necessarily a bad thing, but far from ideal. We'll finally get new planes in 2025, nine years after the last new ones were supposed to have been uncrated.

That's the theory, anyway. With a four-year timeline for finalizing a contract, anything can happen. A new government could scrap the plan. Or our over-politicized procurement process could again go off the rails and we could end up buying more planes off the international used-jet sales lot.

History tells us that it is impossible to know how this will turn out, which makes it impossible to evaluate the government's new plan. The most that can be said is that Ottawa didn't do anything particularly dumb on Tuesday. It's a start.

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