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Ottawa 'hits reset' on plan for new jet fighters; report warns of soaring costs

OTTAWA - Canada's public works minister says the federal government has "hit the reset button" on its controversial efforts to replace Canada's aging fighter-jet fleet.

Rona Ambrose says the entire process is being reviewed in the face of a long-awaited KPMG report that warns of the soaring cost of the planned purchase of high-tech F-35 stealth fighters.

The report says the lifetime cost of owning the Lockheed Martin-built F-35s is estimated at $45.8 billion over 42 years.

The report says National Defence did not build a big enough financial cushion into the plan and that the $9 billion the department set aside may not be enough to pay for the planned 65 jets.

Ambrose and Defence Minister Peter MacKay are both insisting no decision will be made until the review is complete.

"The next step is a full review of options," Ambrose said. "We have hit the reset button and are taking the time to do a complete assessment of all available options."

MacKay said the government will ensure "that balance is maintained between the military needs and taxpayer interests."

"Ultimately, our government will get the best plane for the armed forces, for our pilots and for Canadian taxpayers."

The KPMG report says uncertainties in the oft-delayed program could force the air force to cut the number of planes to 55 -- or force the Conservatives to spend more, anywhere from $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion.

The Conservatives have said the $9 billion figure is firm.

But the various cost figures cited in a series of reports released today are based on a number of variables, including the notion that other allied nations will buy as many jets as they've promised.

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