Amidst growing concern and criticism about the rising cost and delays, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program received a welcome vote of confidence last week from the United States and eight other nations during an international meeting sponsored by Canada. The attendees made it known that they fully support the continued development of the controversial aircraft.
Inside sources reported that Canada’s Associate Minister of National Defense, Julian Fantino, sponsored a dinner and a day-long meeting in the Canadian Embassy in Washington D.C. with the intent of improving communications between the nine partner nations sharing development of the stealth fighter.
Canada, the United States, Britain, Turkey, Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, and Denmark are the partner nations working within developing three variants of the F-35. With frequent criticism being leveled at the program, technical problems receiving widespread news coverage, and the United States’ decision to stretch its orders for 179 aircraft out over a five-year plan of acquisition, the project is in much need of just such a confidence vote.
Meeting participants were given a presentation updating them on the status of the project by Vice Admiral David Venlet, the Pentagon’s Program Manager, and by representatives of Lockheed Martin. The United States also reiterated its firm commitment to the program.
Last month, Italy announced its decision to reduce its initial order for 131 aircraft by 30 percent and Britain announced that it would postpone until 2015 a decision on the total number of aircraft it would acquire. Initially, Britain planned to purchase 138 F-35s and has placed a firm order for three aircraft costing a total of $632 million with the first scheduled to be delivered in June. Australia is also reviewing its previous decision to buy 12 F-35s and Turkey has decided to delay its purchase of two planes until a date to be announced later.
Canada’s governing party is facing severe criticism from the opposition party regarding the decision to purchase 65 F-35s. The opposition party in Canada is demanding the ruling party make the acquisition process publicly transparent and not make a firm commitment to numbers without considering other options.
The United States has followed a policy of briefing senior leaders of partner nations on a bilateral basis in the past and military representative from all nine nations meet at least twice each year with the next meeting scheduled for March 14-15 in Australia. The Canadian-sponsored meeting appears to have been arranged for the purpose of offsetting all the negative press attention the F-35 program is receiving now.