OTTAWA - A former senior air force flight engineer says the F-35 is currently too big a risk for the Canadian taxpayer.
Retired colonel Paul Maillet, a former Green party candidate who also managed the CF-18 fleet during his time in the military, says his biggest worry about the stealth fighter program is that the aircraft is still in development.
He says it will be a decade before it's clear whether the multi-role jet lives up to its billing.
Maillet says a lot can change in aerospace development between now and 2020 and suggests that the air force consider whether unmanned drones can fill some of operational needs.
Speaking on behalf of the Rideau Institute, an Ottawa-based, left-leaning think-tank, Maillet said the Harper government should take a lesson from its experience with the CH-148 Cyclones, the maritime helicopters ordered by Paul Martin's Liberals.
The choppers are still in development, years behind schedule and far over budget.
Maillet's remarks come as the House of Commons public accounts committee is set to open hearings into the auditor general's latest report, which takes aim at the F-35 program by accusing National Defence and Public Works of hiding the total cost of the program and not following the government's procurement rules.
Auditor general Michael Ferguson said in his April 3 report the F-35 would cost taxpayers at least $25 billion, rather than the $14.7 billion the Harper government has been saying.
Maillet said development aircraft come with a "high, high risk" and the auditor general's estimate is likely on the low side because it's still uncertain how much it will cost to maintain the radar-evading jet once it hits the flight line.