Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has ordered a reopening of the bidding process to replace Canada's aging fleet of fighter jets, according to a letter unsealed Friday.
Trudeau's Liberal Party had pledged to scrap the multibillion-dollar purchase of the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet -- the apparent frontrunner to replace Canada's CF-18s -- during the election campaign that swept it into power last month, calling the buy a boondoggle.
In a so-called mandate letter to Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan -- a letter from the prime minister laying out his policy goals and expectations -- Trudeau told Sajjan he would be "working with the minister of public services and procurement to launch an open and transparent competition to replace the CF-18 fighter aircraft, focusing on options that match Canada's defence needs."
This would mark the second reboot in three years of the largest military procurement project in Canadian history.
Canada had joined the United States and its allies in 1997 to develop the F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter, and later announced it would buy 65 of them for Can$44.8 billion ($33.6 billion).
But after coming under fire over its spiraling costs and an apparent lack of transparency and competition in the procurement process, the previous Conservative government widened its search for a new fighter jet in 2012.
Those models now expected to be in the running include the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Dassault Rafale and Boeing's Super Hornet.
Opening up the bidding again, however, does not preclude Canada sticking with the F-35.
Canada's fleet of CF-18 fighter jets, built by McDonnell Douglas, which merged with Boeing in 1997, were scheduled to be retired in 2020. But Ottawa has ordered an upgrade to keep them flying through 2025.