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National News

DND to order fewer F-35 weapons up front

OTTAWA - If the Harper government proceeds with its controversial F-35 program, the stealth fighters might not drop as many bombs or fire as many missiles as previously estimated.

National Defence has drastically revised how much it would spend on weapons for the multi-role fighter, according to a Parliamentary Library research publication tabled this week.

The analysis attempts to chart the conflicting cost estimates that have dogged the procurement since Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced in 2010 the Lockheed Martin-built jet would replace the CF-18s.

Last spring, auditor general Michael Ferguson criticized National Defence for low-balling the cost of the program, and not including estimates for operating the high-tech jet well into the future.

The new research publication lays out the Defence Department's response to Ferguson against previous statements, and lists a series of revisions, including significant cuts to the amount of money set aside for weapons, infrastructure and project management.

The amount National Defence has set aside for weapons has been cut to just $52 million for the estimated 30-year operational life of the jets, compared with estimates in two previous reports of $270 million and $300 million.

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