OTTAWA -- Amid the avalanche of figures, statistics, estimates and soothing political assurances coming this week on the Conservative government's troubled stealth fighter program, one report will warn about the lagging benefit for Canada's aerospace sector.
It could prove more damaging in the long run than the bruising debate about the eye-popping cost of the multi-role fighter, say some experts.
"What we're talking about here is pork," said Winslow Wheeler, a U.S. aviation expert and long-standing critic of the F-35.
"The government has been promising the world, but that's going to be very different than what's in hand."
When the Harper government announced its intention to buy the Lockheed Martin-built F-35 Lightning II in 2010, government ministers trumpeted the benefits to Canadian aerospace companies.
The air force's research, largely based on information from the U.S. manufacturer, suggested Canadian industry would be in line for as much as US $12 billion in manufacturing or spare-parts contracts over the life of the project.
Industry Canada quietly lowered those expectations last spring to US $9.85 billion following a blistering report from the auditor general on how the program has been managed.
Government sources say a benefits analysis coming this week as part of a Public Works agency report to Parliament suggests Canadian companies will struggle to reach the US$9-billion mark, thanks to stiff competition from other nations whose participation in the F-35's development has given them preferential access to the U.S. manufacturer's supply chain.
The F-35 project is unlike traditional military procurements in which the winning contractor is required to spend the equivalent of the contract value in Canada, either directly through subsidiaries or by placing work elsewhere in the economy.
The system established for the F-35 sees countries that participated in the development given the chance to bid on supply and sustainment contracts without any guarantee, thereby bypassing the regular system.
To date, 70 Canadian companies have secured more than US$435 million in contracts on the development and initial production of the fighter.
But retired air force colonel Paul Maillet, who worked on the acquisition of the current CF-18 fleet, said reaping only $9 billion from the expenditure of more than $40 billion in public funds could come back to haunt the government.
"The way they structured the industrial benefits package, it wasn't to our benefit," Maillet said.
-- The Canadian Press