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Canada buying 88 American F-35 stealth fighters amid rising tensions with China and Russia

Canada has finalized a deal to purchase 88 F-35 stealth fighter jets from the United States, despite a 2015 campaign promise by then-Liberal candidate Justin Trudeau to scrap the Conservatives’ F-35 fighter jet program.

This deal makes America’s NORAD partner and NATO ally the last of the F-35 program’s original eight partners to embrace the fifth-generation fighter, reported CNN. Canada previously invested over $600 million into the aircraft’s development as part of the program.

What are the details?

The Canadian government announced on Monday that it would be procuring 88 F-35 fighter jets through an agreement with the U.S. government, Lockheed Martin, and American aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney.

According to the National Post, the mandatory delivery criteria agreed upon by Lockheed Martin stipulates “the 9th fully mission capable future fighter platform will be delivered no earlier than 1 December 2025 and no later than 1 December 2027.”

The deal is valued at roughly $14.2 billion USD or $19 billion CAD, constituting the Canada’s largest investment in its air force in thirty years. Canadian defense firms have reportedly earned over $1.4 billion in contracts to build F-35 parts.

CTV News noted that the cost of purchasing and operating the jets over the course of the aircraft’s projected 40-year lifespan may run Canadian taxpayers around $52 billion.

The first four jets are expected to be delivered in 2026, followed by an additional six in 2027, six more in 2028, and the remainder by 2032, thereby phasing out the Royal Canadian Air Force’s McDonnell Douglas CF-18 Hornet aircraft.

“The F-35 is a modern, reliable, and agile fighter aircraft used by our closest allies in missions across the globe. It is the most advanced fighter on the market, and it is the right aircraft for Canada,” the National Defence Department said in a statement.

The RCAF indicated that this acquisition is a “positive step forward” that will enable it to “enforce Canada’s sovereignty as outlined in Canada’s Defence Policy and meet Canada’s NORAD and NATO commitments for decades to come.”

Canada, like other American allies, has been growing increasingly wary about the threat of Chinese aggression, extra to the reality of Russian hostility.

Canada’s Defence Minister Anita Anand provided geopolitical context for the purchase, writing, “As our world grows darker, with Russia’s illegal and unjustifiable attack on Ukraine, and China’s increasingly assertive behavior in the Indo-Pacific, this project has taken on heightened significance – especially given the importance of interoperability with our allies.”

According to the U.S. State Department, American defense arrangements with Canada are more extensive than with any other country. Additionally, U.S. and Canadian military forces cooperate on continental defense within the framework of NORAD, the world’s only binational military command.

In part due to this interoperability, Canada’s aging air force and waning military capabilities have been cause for American concern in recent years. Former President Donald Trump called Canada “slightly delinquent” in 2019 for failing to live up to NATO’s target for spending on defense.

The Toronto Star reported that former President Barack Obama similarly made an issue of Canadian’s defense capabilities.

In 2021, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, David Cohen, underscored the need for “Canada’s policies [to] reflect its words in terms of the treatment of China,” adding that the northern nation and the U.S. had to improve their collaboration in taking on “the existential threat that is China.”

Canada, which was not brought into AUKUS, a defense alliance composed of the U.S., the U.K., and Australia, may also have been spurred by President Joe Biden’s suggestion to former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison that the “United States has no closer or more reliable ally than Australia — our nations have been together for a long time.”

Although it is unclear whether Canada will eventually join AUKUS, which Trudeau claimed was about nuclear submarines, the acquisition of the new F-35s will enable the Canadian military to more seamlessly operate alongside its allies, reported CTV News.

The purchase of the F-35s represents a significant about-face for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who criticized the previous Conservative government for considering the acquisition back when the Canadian-U.S. exchange rate was far more favorable.

Trudeau castigated the Conservatives for “cling[ing] to an aircraft [the F-35] that does not work and is far from working.”

He told reporters in 2015, “The Conservative government never actually justified or explained why they felt Canada needed a fifth-generation fighter. They just talked about it like it was obvious. It was obvious, as we saw through the entire process, that they were particularly, and some might say unreasonably or unhealthily, attached to the F-35 aircraft.”

Conservative defense critic James Bezan said with regards to Trudeau’s change of heart, “This is a situation where he originally said he would never buy the F-35 and did everything in his power to stop it from actually happening, but at the end of the day, this is the only modern fighter jet that can deliver the capabilities Canada so desperately needs.”

“And so here we are today, where Justin Trudeau has to eat crow and do what’s right for Canada, do what’s right for the Royal Canadian Air Force, and do it right for our NORAD and NATO allies,” added Bezan.

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