08/31/2012 04:00 EDT | Updated 10/31/2012 05:12 EDT

Ardent defender of proposed F-35 jet fighter purchase leaving military

OTTAWA - One of the most ardent defenders of the Harper government's plan to buy F-35 stealth fighters is leaving the Canadian military.

Lt.-Gen. Andre Deschamps, commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, will retire.

He's being replaced by Maj.-Gen. Al Blondin, who will be promoted and until recently commanded the 1st Canadian Air Division.

Deschamps' exit comes just days after the government picked another air force officer, Lt.-Gen. Tom Lawson, as the new chief of defence staff, the country's top military commander.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay's office announced Deschamps' departure late Friday, along with a series of other command appointments.

Testifying regularly before House of Commons committees, Deschamps spoke up for the embattled F-35 project, insisting the multi-role fighter was the best choice for the country.