09/22/2015 05:55 EDT | Updated 09/22/2016 05:12 EDT

Trudeau's F-35 Pledge Haunted By Ghost Of Sea King Helicopters Replacement

OTTAWA — The last time a prospective Liberal government promised to cancel a pricey military program it led to a procurement odyssey that stretched more than 20 years, something defence experts say Justin Trudeau would have to avoid with the F-35.

Jean Chretien's 1993 campaign promise to cancel the air force's planned acquisition of EH-101 maritime helicopters had a profound effect on both the military and the defence establishment.

It cost the federal treasury up to $500 million in contract cancellation penalties, soured the relationship with manufacturer Agusta Westland, and left the air force with a fleet of aging CH-124 Sea King helicopters that it's still struggling to replace today after a series of development delays with the chosen successor, the CH-148 Cyclone.

Trudeau's pledge to back out of the F-35 program would not mean contract penalties since there is no signed agreement to break. 

But it has the potential of affecting up to 33 Canadian aerospace companies working on the stealth fighter and future work doled out by Lockheed Martin, the world's biggest defence contractor.

Defence experts, such as former military procurement boss Alan Williams, say the key for Trudeau would be to open up bids quickly after forming government and signing a contract within two years.

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