Canadians could soon discover the true cost of replacing their aging fleet of CF-18 fighter jets, which are to be grounded over the next seven years.
The federal auditor general said Ottawa's plan to purchase 65 advanced F-35 fighters would cost at least $45 billion over 30 years, including pilot training, equipment, salaries, infrastructure, fuel and everything it takes to run an air force.
The Conservatives had originally said the cost would be $9 billion, but they neglected to provide the full life-cycle costs.
An independent panel has now considered four alternatives to the F-35, but they, too, will come with extraordinary lifetime costs, although the precise costs won't be known without a full competitive process.
When the financial numbers for all the alternatives are available, they will reveal the full incremental cost of selecting the F-35 over the alternatives, which will be less expensive.
The point, however, is the choice is between an expensive air force, regardless of the jet, or no air force at all. The still-outstanding question is whether Canada will be better served by the most advanced jet available, or by one that can be purchased off the shelf.