In Canada, where the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program has long been a very contentious issue politically, there's a new hubbub in the press today (Tuesday) over remarks by a top government official that can be read as a softening of that nation's commitment to the JSF.
In an appearance in Parliament, Associate Defense Minister Julian Fantino said the government remains supportive of the F-35, but the government had not made "the determinate decision" on whether it will purchase the F-35, and that it had not "discounted backing out."
Fantino's words seem more a change in tone than signifying any real consideration of a change of position on the F-35, a reflection of the steady stream of news in the last six months about problems with the F-35, U.S. order cutbacks and rising costs.
A spokesman for the defense ministry, Chris McCluskey, sent the following statement to the Star-Telegram:
"Our position has not changed. We remain committed to the Joint Strike Fighter Program. A budget has been allocated. A contract has not been signed. We will make sure that the Air Force has aircraft necessary to do the job we ask of them."
The Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made the country's support for and eventual plan to purchase the F-35 a centerpiece of its defense plans. The F-35, unlike in the U.S., was a major partisan issue in the 2011 election that saw Harper's party gain a parliamentary majority.
The Ottawa Citizen reports on the day's events:
Fantino and Defence Minister Peter MacKay were appearing before the committee less than two weeks after Fantino hosted a closed-door meeting for representatives from other nations involved in the F-35 program at the Canadian Embassy in Washington.
The ministers said all partner countries harbour the same concerns about the price overruns and delays, and that the government would not be exceeding its $9 billion budget for replacing Canada's aging fleet of CF-18 fighters.
The ministers said the government remains supportive of the F-35 program and that none of the partner nations are planning to jump ship any time soon.
"There is only one stealth aircraft available for Canada," MacKay said.
However, without giving any specifics, Fantino acknowledged the government is weighing alternative options.
"Certainly we're looking at all kinds of contingencies," he said.
A small team has been set up within the Defence Department, it was revealed, that is charged with considering alternatives.
"We continue to monitor the options available to us all around the world," said Dan Ross, the Defence Department's head of military procurement.
The political wavering, if that is indeed what it is, comes as senior representatives of all the partner nations meet in Sydney, Australia for the next two days for progress reports and briefings from the U.S. and Lockheed Martin.