CALGARY - The head of Boeing says he's confident that his company's F-18 Super Hornet could fill Canada's military needs as the government reassesses its purchase of F-35 stealth fighters.
The Canadian government stepped back late last year from acquiring the fighters built by Lockheed-Martin and started an evaluation of potential rivals.
Results of the federal government's assessment of other fighter jets aren't expected until at least this fall and a decision to reopen the contract to new bidding hasn't been made.
But James McNerney, board chairman, president and CEO of The Boeing Company, suggests it's only a matter of time.
"I think there is another fighter competition coming and the Super Hornets, as modified, have been here for almost three decades now," he said Friday before speaking at a business forum at Spruce Meadows in Calgary.
"I think there's an opportunity for our next generation to compete here."
McNerney said he doesn't think the Canadian government can make a bad choice.
"I don't think they will be making a huge mistake either way. I do think the Boeing solution would be just fine."
The government announced plans in 2010 to buy 65 new F-35 radar-evading stealth fighters for what the military initially said would cost $9 billion. The cost would have made the acquisition the largest single purchase of military hardware in Canadian history.
But a KPMG report late last year warned that the bill for the F-35s could be as much as $45.8 billion over 42 years. That prompted the government to reassess the deal.
The Royal Canadian Air Force and the government are working on a tight deadline to replace the current stable of CF-18s, which are due to be retired in 2020. The original plan was to buy a handful of F-35s starting in 2016.
The F-35 has been plagued by delays and technical problems that have caused costs to soar. In February, the Pentagon grounded its U.S. fleet after discovering a cracked engine blade in one plane.
"The F-35 has had some struggles as a lot of new programs do and so I think the judgment that the Canadian government needs to make is sort of against their defence timing requirements," said McNerney.
"I don't want to say a bird in the hand versus something that has not yet been fully developed, but the choice will be of that nature."
Boeing has done business with the Canadian Forces before — the company delivered 15 Chinook helicopters earlier this year.
McNerney said upgrades on the F-18 have made it competitive with so-called fifth-generation fighters such as the F-35.
"We are evolving our current generation fighters toward the next generation as opposed to an independent investment in what you would call a fifth generation," he said.
"We are adding all the capabilities that gets the F-15 and F-18 to that point and therefore don't need the kind of major leap forward."
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