The Pentagon expects the new Canadian government to allow Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35 fighter aircraft to compete to replace Canada's ageing CF-18 jets, despite the Liberal Party's stated opposition to the planes, said US Deputy Defence Secretary Bob Work on Saturday, 21 November.
However, Work cautioned after talks in Canada that how the fledgling government sets its requirements for the competition would ultimately determine what jet the country gets.
"I think they're going to have another full and open competition. I think the F-35 will be part of that, but the requirements from the competition may change. We don't know," Work told reporters travelling with him back from Canada.
His comments came a day after Canada's new Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said it would be "premature" to talk about the F-35s or any aircraft that might or might not be able to replace the CF-18.
"I'm focused on the requirements that we need as a nation that works with our allies as well, with NATO and our NORAD commitments," said Sajjan, referring to the North American Aerospace Defence Command.
A decision not to go with the F-35 could raise the prospects for Boeing Co's F/A-18E/F fighters.
Work said he only sounded out Sajjan when the two met in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shook up his election campaign and the aerospace industry with his 20 September announcement that he would not buy F-35s. He said he expected this to yield savings, which he would apply to naval ships.
But Canada, one of the nine countries in the initial F-35 partnership, pledged to invest $150 million in the programme's development when it signed up in February 2002.
Those funds would not be reimbursed if Canada exits the program. Many Canadian firms that supply parts worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Lockheed each year could also lose those orders.
Joe DellaVedova, spokesman for the F-35 programme office, said on Friday, 20 November Canada remained a partner in the programme and was still slated to participate in a meeting of the programme's executive steering board in Italy early next month.
"Similar to actions taken by other nations, the Government of Canada is working to launch an open and transparent competition to replace their legacy aircraft," he said.