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TORONTO — Canada has finalized an agreement with Lockheed Martin Corp and the United States government to purchase 88 F-35 fighter jets, government officials said Monday.

The first four aircraft are anticipated to be delivered in 2026 with full operational capacity for the fleet expected between 2032 and 2034.

The government has budgeted about $19 billion Canadian (US$15 billion) for the purchase in what is the largest investment in the Royal Canadian Air Force in more than 30 years. Each jet costs about US$85 million. The full life cycle of the program is expected to cost $70 billion (US$52 billion).

Canada has a close defense relationship with the United States, which includes using fighter jets together to defend North American air space. The announcement comes as Trudeau is set to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden at the North American Leaders’ Summit in Mexico.

The government said last year Lockheed Martin’s F-35 was deemed to be the top-ranked bidder for a new fighter jet to replace aging F-18s, deciding against Boeing’s Super Hornet. Meanwhile Canada purchased some Australian F-18s to help extend the life of the Canadian F-18 program until 2032.

Before becoming prime minister, Trudeau had said Canada wouldn’t buy the F-35. A former Conservative Canadian government had announced the purchase of the F-35 but Trudeau’s Liberal government delayed that purchase and opened up the bidding to competition.

“As our world grows darker with Russia’s illegal and unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine, and China’s increasingly assertive behavior in the Indo-Pacific, this project has taken on heightened significance especially the importance of interoperability with our allies,” Defense Minister Anita Anand.

“We need to ensure that especially in this changing global strategic environment we are that we are fulfilling our obligations to NORAD and to NATO.”

Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said it was inevitable that Canada would opt for the F-35, especially since many other western allies have bought the F-35.

“The Liberals opposed the purchase a few years ago when they were in opposition. They did so because the Conservative government favored it,” Wiseman said. “Unlike Americans, Canadians generally oppose increased defense spending and the F-35 is expensive. The proposed purchase received public blowback when the Conservatives were in office and the Liberals wanted to capitalize on it,” she said.

Wiseman said Biden will welcome the investment – F-35s are made in Fort Worth, Texas – but the U.S. has been expecting it for some time so it won’t be a surprise to Biden. Maintaining and operating the jets should involve 3,300 jobs and add $425 million annually to Canada‘s GDP, the Canadian government said.

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