The U.S. State Department has given the green light for Canada to buy 18 Boeing Super Hornet fighter jets for an estimated price tag of $6.3 billion Cdn.
The agency that oversees foreign military sales has recommended to the U.S. Congress that the sale proceed because it would benefit a NATO ally and help Canada improve its military capability.
It is uncertain whether the Liberal government will actually proceed with the sole-source purchase in light of its ongoing trade dispute with Boeing, which has been getting wider and more rancorous in the last few weeks.
The jets were initially pitched as an urgent requirement by the Liberal government, which said the air force is unable to meet its NORAD and NATO air commitments simultaneously.
The sale, however, has taken a back seat since May and a review was ordered and successive ministers publicly ripped the U.S. aerospace giant for filing a trade complaint against Quebec-based Bombardier.
Boeing argues the Montreal company is unfairly subsidized by the Canadian government and sells its C-Series jets south of the border at below market costs.
A preliminary decision from U.S. trade regulators is expected on Sept. 25.
The dispute took an unexpected turn this week with revelations that the British government has lobbied Washington to dial back Boeing’s challenge because Northern Ireland is home to 5,000 Bombardier manufacturing jobs.
Boeing would not comment on Tuesday’s decision, other than to say it is encouraged by U.S. government support for the proposed sale.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has publicly mused about considering options other than the Super Hornet to cover the gap in fighter capability.
Precisely what those alternatives might be isn’t entirely clear, although government officials did leak that air force planners had looked at buying used Australian F-18s, which are on the market after that country upgraded its air force.
The Liberals have taken an extraordinary amount of political heat after floating the interim fighter purchase last fall.
CBC News reported in January that internal government estimates pegged the overall cost for the stop-gap purchase would range between $5 billion and $7 billion.
Details released late Tuesday as part of the U.S. Defence Security Co-operation Agency’s recommendation could only add fuel to that fire.
“$6.3 billion is awfully expensive for temporary aircraft,” said defence analyst Dave Perry, of the Canadian Global…