Mr. Speaker, it really is a pleasure. I thank the hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques for his interest in this very important matter, the F-35 joint strike fighter.
This issue is important for Canada and for several other countries, including our closest allies who will depend on these jets for their security for decades to come. We are talking about the safety and security of Canada and of our personnel, our pilots, our men and women in uniform, who have always demanded that their government provide them with the best equipment so they can carry out their missions successfully and return home safe and sound. The capability of this very modern aircraft will give our pilots—beginning in 2016 and for years after that—the best possible chance of returning home safely after carrying out potentially very difficult missions.
I cannot talk about or mention the name of my hon. colleague's riding without thinking about the spinoffs and very significant benefits for Canada and for his beautiful home province of Quebec, the birthplace of Canada's aerospace industry, which is already benefiting quite significantly from this leading-edge international program. In fact, companies in Montreal and Winnipeg, in eastern and western Canada, and in six Canadian provinces are benefiting from this program. Already more than $300 million in firm contracts have been distributed to more than 60 Canadian companies from coast to coast. To my knowledge, there are none in the Arctic or in the three territories. We are participating in this program and reaping the benefits in terms of security. We are in the process of developing and enhancing the capacity of our aerospace industry, which represents 80,000 jobs in Canada.
We can talk about safety and security and about jobs, but let us also talk about future combat, combat we would like to avoid. We have to be equipped to protect our national interests in the Libyas of the future.
We need a fighter jet, as we have always had, for Canadian pilots and for the Royal Canadian Air Force, that can deploy, fight, win and come back. The F-35 is flying. There are over 20 in the air and over 35 in production this year. It is an international project, with nine countries still on board. Some of them, and my colleagues opposite never mention this, in recent months have reaffirmed and indeed enlarged their commitment to the F-35, including Japan.
At least two successive secretaries of defense of the United States have said that this aircraft will form the backbone of U.S. air combat capability for decades to come. Secretary Panetta said this most recently in Halifax, in a Canadian forum. They have reconfirmed that 2,443 remains the number that the U.S. will be buying, not in exactly the same years that they had originally hoped, over a slightly longer period, but still to form an absolute core capability for the United States, one that will suit Canada very well as well.