Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence gives the thumbs up from the cockpit of the Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter F-35 Lighting II Friday July 16, 2010 in Ottawa after announcing to the military and media that Canada be acquiring the the JSF F-35. (ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY)
OTTAWA - The F-35 stealth fighter jets could cost Canada $29.3 billion, according to the parliamentary budget office -- nearly double the government's initial estimate of $16 billion.
The PBO released a report Thursday about the purchase of the planes, in which it estimates each F-35 could cost $149 million plus $300 million in service costs over 30 years.
Including maintenance costs, the PBO estimates each F-35 will eventually cost taxpayers $450 million in 2009 dollars.
"That's certainly a far cry from the bogus figure of $250 million the Conservatives have been advancing," blasted Liberal defence critic Dominic LeBlanc. "Today, their (the government's) argument was blown out of the water.
"This is an unconscionable amount of money. The Conservatives have once again misled Canadians about the real cost of their agenda."
But the government said it's standing by its earlier estimates of $70-75 million per aircraft and $250-$300 million for annual service costs for the fleet.
On Thursday, a spokesman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the PBO's report is only meant as a "preliminary set of data for discussion.
"DND procurement experts stand by their cost projections. We have committed $9 billion to the acquisition of 65 aircraft and $250-$300 million over 20 years for in-service support," wrote Jay Paxton in an e-mail. "The F-35 is the only jet that can meet the needs of the Air Force as noted by (the PBO)," Paxton added. "Simply put, this is the best plane for the best price and we are confident in our acquisition."
Defence officials went on the attack Thursday, saying Page's estimates are based on historical data going back 30 years, whereas DND has estimated the actual cost of the F-35 components.
Deputy minister Dan Ross, in charge of materiel for the defence department, said the complexity of the F-35 project makes it difficult to compare one analysis to another.
"We are dealing with large and complex projects (that) involve a number of different variables and factors on cost, which can vary depending on how you calculate those costs," he said. "Our expected cost at the most efficient point of production remains in the mid-$70 million US range.
"We stand by our estimates."
In July, MacKay announced the government would buy 65 F-35 jets - developed by U.S. company Lockheed Martin - for $9 billion, with service costs throughout the aircrafts' lifetime pegged at $7 billion. The F-35 is a joint international project including the United States and Britain.
The first F-35 is expected to arrive in 2016, with all the jets delivered by 2022.