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Canada reconsidering F-35 fighter programme

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MONTREAL (AFP): The Canadian government is backtracking on a decision to buy US-made F-35 fighter aircraft, in the face of higher than expected costs, a local newspaper has reported.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet is pulling back in response to a soon-to-be released audit by KPMG that puts the lifetime costs of the F-35 programme at above USD 30 billion, the daily National Post reported Friday.

Public television network CBC also said the government was considering other options.

According to the National Post account, a cabinet committee responsible for operations decided at a meeting Tuesday to scrap the programme and go back to the drawing board.

The programme now goes to the cabinet's priority and planning committee, which is scheduled to meet Friday.

Harper in February had opened the door to reducing the number of F-35s the government will buy, to stay within budget amid rising costs.

Ottawa had planned to spend USD 8.5 billion to buy 65 aircraft, or USD 16 billion when maintenance is included.

The development of the stealth fighter, however, has been plagued by technical problems that have prompted some countries to cancel their contracts.

The opposition has accused Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay for sharply underestimating the costs of acquiring the aircraft, which is made by American aerospace giant Lockheed Martin.

Auditor General Michael Ferguson also criticised the defence ministry in April for failing to establish the lifetime costs of maintaining the aircraft.

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