10/25/2011 05:20 EDT | Updated 12/25/2011 05:12 EST

F-35 Fighter Contracts: Tories Tout Benefits, But Questions Linger About Jet's Development


OTTAWA - The Conservative government was determined Tuesday to showcase the industrial benefits of the F-35 as more questions were raised about the stealth fighter.

Julian Fantino, the associate minister of National Defence, toured a new section of Bristol Aerospace in Winnipeg where horizontal tail sections for the conventional version of the jet will be built.

The contract was announced recently by Lockheed Martin as part of the U.S. manufacturer's plan to line up suppliers on a world-wide basis.

The tour and the reminder that $373 million in F-35 contracts have been won by Canadian companies came at the same time as the Opposition continued to hammer away at the government in the House of Commons over modifications that will be needed for the aircraft.

Briefing notes for the air force chief show that the fighter will not have the software needed to communicate from the Arctic and that the Defence Department will need to install a back-up system until the upgrade is available after 2019.

New Democrat MP Matthew Kellway called for the contract to be put out to public tender — something the Liberals have long-advocated.

He asked how much the government intends to spend to get working radios.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the difference between the New Democrats and Conservatives is that the government is prepared to spend millions on life-saving equipment.