Since 1997 Canada has been looking to replace it's ageing fleet of CF-18's, which dates from 1982. To do so, Canada, along with the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Norway, Denmark and Austria, joined the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program, which has as a goal the development, production and maintenance of a 5th generation fighter. In 2010 the eye of the Ministry of Defense fell on the product of this international program: the F-35 fighter of Lockheed Martin, designed in 2006. However the decision of the Canadian government to buy 65 of these planes is extremely controversial.
The first fault the detractors cite is that the F-35 does not respond to the needs of Canada but rather to those of the United States and the United Kingdom, the two countries that founded the JSF program. The fighter has an insufficiant operating range to patrol the Arctic or the coast of Canada, the two primary functions of Canada's air force. In fact an F-35 taking off from some of Canada's northernmost bases would not be able to reach the crucial Northwest Passages amongst the Artic Archipelago.
The F-35 is also incapable of loitering over the battlefield for long periods of time and therefore offers only a small assistance to troops on the ground, a huge weakness in operations such as that conducted in Libya in 2011. In addition, this new fighter cannot transport a useful amount of munitions because stealth demands that the munitions are carried in a bay inside the fuselage, greatly reducing the total load. More munitions can be installed on the exterior of the plane but doing so diminishes the stealthiness of the fighter. Lastly, the Joint Strike Fighter is too visible on radar, despite the stealth technologies touted by Lockheed-Martin.
It is clear that the F-35 is not worth it's massive price tag, which is now five times that originally budgeted. The real cost for Canada of the entire JSF program is now estimated at 45 billion dollars by an independant evalutaion, while the cost presented to the Canadian public by the government and by Lockheed-Martin is 9 billion dollars. It is obvious to the experts that the government is lying through its teeth when it claims that the program still respects the original budget because even goverment documents affirm that the program now costs at least 25 billion dollars.
The final criticism of the purchase is that the Canadian government never even established a contest to determine which fighter should be bought. In fact the government never conducted an independant contest between the F-35 and it's competitors, the American F-18 Super Hornet, the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Swedish Gripen, and the French Rafale, to decide which fighter would respond the best to Canada's needs. Despite government claims that an exhaustive comparison was conducted, the Ministry of Defense asserts that it never received classified information concerning these other planes or the Joint Strike Fighter itself.
It would seem that the Canadian government has not found the best replacement for the CF-18 in the F-35 of the international Joint Strike Fighter Program. Instead Ottowa is trying to please the Americans and also offer work to the Canadian aeronautics industry, which will have a large part in the production of the F-35. Only the future can reveal if Canada will in fact buy its 65 F-35's.