Parliamentary Budget Officer to release cost estimate on F-35 warplanes in October, total cost could reach $90.4 billion

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The Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer told PBI-Canada this week that they are aiming to publish in October their cost estimate of the Canadian government’s purchase of the Lockheed Martin F-35 warplane.

On January 23, 2023, the Ottawa Citizen reported: “The parliamentary budget officer will examine the Liberal government’s decision to buy the U.S.-built F-35 stealth fighter and has now requested information about the deal from National Defence.”

That article adds: “[Then-Defence Minister Anita] Anand announced Jan. 9 the purchase of the 88 jets valued at $19 billion. That figure includes the aircraft, new infrastructure and some initial maintenance and weapons.”

The Parliamentary Budget Office began its work on their examination of the costs of the F-35 fighter jet on January 9, 2023.

They had originally anticipated their report would be released by Spring.

Adding up the costs

In February 2021, the No Fighter Jets Coalition released this report that estimated the lifecycle costs of the fighter jet purchase at $76.8 billion.

In January 2023, Department of National Defence officials acknowledged the total cost would be about $70 billion.

Both estimates may be on the low side.

$6 billion for weapons: The No Fighter Jets Coalition report published two years ago assumed the cost of munitions had been factored into the estimated acquisition cost. On February 13, 2023, an Ottawa Citizen headline read: More than $6 billion earmarked for F-35 weapons – cost separate from aircraft purchase.

$7.3 billion for bases: The coalition report also noted that “so far, $21.3 million has been awarded in infrastructure contracts” but that “much more could be spent”. On March 25, 2023, the CBC reported $7.3 billion would be spent “to upgrade its fighter jet bases and Far North landing strips to accommodate the air force’s new F-35s.”

$1.05 billion for development costs: And at the time the report was released, the Canadian government had paid $689 million into the development of the F-35. With the payment of US $99 million in May 2022, that total rose to US $712 million (CAD $955.93 million). If another payment of US $71.7 million was made in May 2023, that would take the total to US $783.7 million (CAD $1.05 billion).

These updates might suggest an additional $13.6 billion could be added to the initial estimate of $76.8 billion – for a price tag closer to $90.4 billion ($20 billion more than the Department of National Defence admitted in January 2023).

First delivery of F-35s

It’s not clear when Canada will receive its first F-35 fighter jet, though former Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi had stated it come as early as 2025.

The Ottawa Citizen subsequently reported Lockheed Martin had promised “the 9th fully mission capable future fighter platform will be delivered no earlier than 1 December 2025 and no later than 1 December 2027.”

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