Jet fighter costs no longer 'Stealth'

Ottawa was awash in speculation Thursday that the pricetag for the life-time cost of the oft-maligned F-35 fighter was about to take a huge jump.

A government sponsored report written by the accounting firm KPMG is widely expected to show that the pricetag of owning 65 stealth fighters could stretch to $40 billion.

The figure is higher than $25 billion estimates last spring by the auditor general, who in a scathing report blasted the Harper government for low-balling the purchase.

Over the previous two years, the Conservatives insisted the all-in price for the multi-role, radar-evading jet was going to be up to $16 billion.

Defence sources said next week's KPMG report is expected to present a range of figures for cost ownership, depending on the number of years the Royal Canadian Air Force intends to fly the plane.

The longer it's in service, the higher the cost.

The report has been in the hands of the government for a week.

A spokeswoman for Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose said late Thursday that the government is committed to fufilling its seven point response to the auditor general's report.

"The government has received the report from KPMG and is reviewing it," Michelle Bakos said in an email. "The government will be providing a comprehensive public update before the House rises."

One media report speculated that a cabinet committee had decided to scrap the F-35 purchase altogether and look at other alternatives, which has been flatly denied by several senior government officials.

One defence source, speaking on the condition of not being named, said the figure the government is watching closely is not the full life-cycle cost, but the pricetag per plane.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Defence Minister Peter MacKay are both on-the-record saying the government is willing to spend no more than $9 billion on purchasing aircraft.

The defence official says that is the "red line" and that maintenance and operating costs can be adjusted over the years, depending upon how much each aircraft is flown.

A series of delays and cost overruns have seen the estimated pricetag per jet climb from US $75 million to in the range US $133 million.

The F-35 program has long been a hot button issue in Ottawa with arguments over the cost contributing to a Liberal motion that defeated Harper's minority government in 2011.

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