* Canada says could still buy the F-35
* Full costs of buying plane set to soar, media reports say
OTTAWA, Dec 12 (Reuters) - Canada will make an announcement
on its search for new fighter jets at 3:15 eastern time (2015
GMT) on Wednesday, the public works ministry said in a
Officials said last week that the government would restart
the process of searching for a new fighter for Canada's air
force after soaring costs spurred a rethink of plans to buy
Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35.
They said it was still possible that Ottawa would eventually
decide to buy the F-35, dismissing reports Canada had decided to
walk away from the jet.
The Conservative government has been dogged by the F-35 file
since it declared in July 2010 it intended to buy 65 of the
Joint Strike Fighters for C$9 billion ($9.1 billion) without
holding an open competition.
Officials say Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose on
Wednesday will unveil an independent report on the true costs of
buying the jets and maintaining them over 42 years.
According to the National Post, the report by accounting
firm KPMG puts the total at almost C$46 billion. The previous
highest defense department estimate was C$25 billion, but that
covered a 20-year period.
Critics from opposition parties said the single-source
decision was wrong and complained right from the start that
Ottawa was not being clear enough about how much it would cost
to buy and maintain the planes.
The Conservatives brushed off the criticism for almost two
years but launched a review in April after a spending watchdog
said the decision to buy the jets had been based on bad data
from officials who deliberately downplayed the costs and risks.
A government source last week said an independent
four-person panel will study the F-35, Boeing Co's F-18
Super Hornet and the EADS Eurofighter and report back
to Ottawa by early 2013. The panel will not make a
Other possible choices to replace the CF-18s are Saab AB's
Gripen and Dassault Aviation SA's Rafale
Lockheed is developing three F-35 variants for the U.S.
military and eight partner nations: Britain, Canada, Italy,
Turkey, Australia, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands.
The $396 billion program - the most expensive in Pentagon
history - has been beset with cost overruns and delays.
U.S. officials say Canada remains part of the international
group that is funding development of the F-35 and that status
remained unchanged. Canada agreed in February 2002 to contribute
$150 million to the F-35 development program.