A senior executive with the aircraft's U.S. manufacturer confirms Canada recently pushed off potential delivery of its first planes until 2018, holding its place in the line of nations that have already agreed to buy the stealth jet.
The plan to acquire 65 of the radar-evading planes has been on hold for over year following a scathing auditor general's report in 2012. It accused National Defence and Public Works of not doing enough homework and low-balling the cost of program.
A public works secretariat overseeing the replacement of the air force's current fleet of CF-18s has conducted a market analysis of what other aircraft are out there. Its report is expected to be key in deciding whether the federal government will hold an open competition.
Steve O'Bryan, vice president of business development at Lockheed Martin, says his company has provided a very thorough package of information to public works and it's important for Canada to go through a careful review.
No delivery contract has been signed, but the partnership arrangement among nations requires them to put begin putting money down three years before the first plane arrives.
Because it was such lightning rod, there has been speculation the Harper government would postpone a decision on whether to proceed with the F-35 until after the next election in October 2015.
The Conservatives could always move the delivery date, but the air force is working under a tight timeline because many of the CF-18s will see their airframe life exhausted by 2020.
The F-35, which has seen a number of development delays and cost overruns in the U.S., is being used in a testing and training capacity at six different bases south of the border, O'Bryan said Thursday.
Canadian companies are part of Lockheed Martin's global supply chain and have won over $600 million in contracts so far, he added.
O'Bryan also touted the fact that South Korea recently decided to buy the jet — something that push the overall number of orders to roughly 3,100 aircraft.
That is significant because the price countries pay per aircraft is tied to the number of orders in any given year.
The numbers became a huge bone on contention in the acrimonious political debate that gripped Ottawa between 2010 and 2012 with watchdogs, such as the parliamentary budget officer and aviation experts claiming there was no way the government would be able to land the plane for $75 million per copy.
Among the auditor general's criticisms was that federal officials under-estimated the lifetime cost of maintaining and operating the aircraft by billions of dollars.