OTTAWA -- Canada has convened two days of international meetings in Washington next week to discuss problems around the controversial F-35 stealth fighter jet program.
The meeting comes as Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Gen. Walt Natynczyk, chief of the defence staff, both affirmed Canada's plan to buy a fleet of F-35 stealth fighter jets at a high-profile military event Friday.
Controversy has surrounded the F-35 procurement as the plane's manufacturer, the U.S. defence giant Lockheed Martin, and the Pentagon move to restructure the program for a third time.
Canada is part of a joint effort to buy the planes along with Britain, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Italy, Turkey and Australia.
Canada has been trying to set up a meeting of partner countries in advance of a scheduled meeting with Lockheed Martin set for later in March.
A well-placed Defence Department source confirmed Friday two days of talks are set for next Thursday and Friday in Washington. The talks are expected to take place at the Canadian Embassy.
Canada proposed the meeting "to address common issues," said the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the procurement.
Ahead of that, MacKay and Natynczyk used a major gathering of defence insiders, analysts, diplomats and business executives to reiterate the government's support to purchase a fleet of F-35 to replace Canada's aging fleet of CF-18 jetfighters.
MacKay and Natynczyk made their pledges before an audience of hundreds at a major military conference in Ottawa.
MacKay also said the Harper government won't pay a penny more than budgeted for the fleet of 65 stealth fighter jets.
"We have been clear that we will operate within that budget," he said in a speech to the Conference of Defence Associations annual meeting.
"And we will give our air men and women the best available aircraft, which I believe is the fifth-generation, F-35 Lightning II."
The comment elicited a smattering of applause.
Natynczyk said in his speech the fighter pilots who returned from Italy after flying in the NATO mission in support of Libya told him they want to fly the F-35.
-- The Canadian Press