OTTAWA - The former commander who led NATO forces through the 2011 bombing and blockade of Libya has been appointed to head up the Canadian operations of Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the troubled F-35 fighter.
Retired lieutenant-general Charles Bouchard takes on the role at the U.S. defence giant effective immediately.
Bouchard, who is an officer of the Order of Canada, retired in April 2012 after nearly four decades with the Royal Canadian Air Force.
The stealth fighter program is clearly in trouble and the federal government could very well decide this fall to hold a full-blown competition, said retired air force colonel Paul Maillet, now a defence analyst.
It appears Bouchard, who was lauded by the Harper government for his leadership of the campaign, has been hired to seal the F-35 deal, Maillet said.
"My perception is they wouldn't hire him for any other reason," he said. "He is an air force general and it would be to try and gain whatever leverage they can, presumably if he is not in any violation of conflict-of-interest."
Federal regulations mandate a one-year cooling-off period before senior officers who've left the military can take up corporate positions, or have significant dealings with the government.
Pat Dewar, executive vice-president at Lockheed Martin International, described Bouchard as a "tremendous leader" who will add a great deal of value to the company's operations.
"Charles will facilitate access to Lockheed Martin's broad portfolio of products and technologies to help Canada address its security and citizen service challenges," Dewar said in a statement.
"We highly value our customers in Canada and we're investing for long-term partnership and growth."
Earlier this month, the company warned that Canada's aerospace industry is at risk of losing about $10.5 billion worth of contracts over several decades if the federal government decides against the controversial F-35.
Orlando Carvalho, Lockheed Martin's executive vice-president in charge of aeronautics, said the company will honour $500-million worth of business already awarded to Canadian partners but that other work would be in jeopardy without a Canadian jet order.
Lockheed estimates that the Canadian industry could potentially receive $11 billion of contracts over 25 to 40 years as its builds 3,000 planes for air forces around the world.
The company has been on an aggressive publicity blitz of late, Maillet noted, buying ad space in influential publications and even on transit buses in Ottawa to convince the public of the F-35's value.
"It certainly is a push. They have a lot of marketing horsepower," he said.
It has been almost 10 months since the Harper government declared it was hitting the "reset button" on the stealth fighter program and a secretariat at Public Works and Government Services Canada began studying alternative aircraft in detail.
The level of examination and the length of time spent to date suggests the Conservatives, whose fiscal credibility was sorely tested by the auditor general's report into the procurement, are prepared to open up the CF-18 replacement to a full competition, Maillet said.
"Two or three years ago, I was worried the F-35 was a done deal; now I'm not so sure," he said. "I think Lockheed Martin senses that, and they're worried."
The company researches, designs, develops and manufactures advanced technology systems, and reported net sales of $47.2 billion in 2012. Lockheed Martin Canada has more than 700 employees and offices located in Ottawa, Montreal, Calgary and Dartmouth, N.S.
The parent company is headquartered in Bethesda, Md., but has offices around the world and more than 100,000 workers.
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