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F-35s finally land a combat role - in Hollywood

Tom Cruise in 1986 film Top Gun.

KOBAL COLLECTION/PARAMOUNT/KOBAL COLLECTION/PARAMOUNT

The F-35, the stealthy, deep-strike warplane, has finally landed a combat role – albeit in Hollywood.

Long-delayed and over-budget, the F-35 has been selected to star alongside Tom Cruise in a sequel of Top Gun, the 1980s flick in which fun-loving naval aviators conquered local girls and the Libyan air force. Mr. Cruise, who memorably played 'Maverick,' romancing his hot instructor and out-dueling Soviet-era warplanes in the first Top Gun, is back as a grizzled test pilot in the sequel.

The movie's F-35 will be a pre-production model.

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At least Maverick, who will be in his 50s when Top Gun 2 premieres, will have a hot new plane to play with. The same can't be said for frustrated air forces, including Canada's, whose aging fighter-bombers are worn out. They won't be getting F-35s anytime soon. Some are giving up.

In fact, evasive orders may be the F-35s stealthiest achievement to date.

Consider this subtle change in course by the Harper government:

As recently as last November, Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino was defiantly on target. "We will purchase the F-35. We're on record. We're part of the crusade. We're not backing down."

Back in the Cold War, flying cockpit to cockpit against hostiles in MiGs, Maverick put it this way: "You don't have time to think up there. If you think, you're dead."

But Mr. Fantino has a new script. It no longer mentions the July 2010 announcement by the Harper government to pay $15-billion for 65 of the F-35 warplanes – a price many analysts believe is less than half the true cost.

As other allies bail out of the program and Mr. Obama's defence cuts threaten to double the cost of early-delivery F-35s, the Harper government has started to hedge.

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Mr. Fantino managed to stealthily evade any commitment when Canada and a clutch of other maybe-buyers of the F-35 met to discuss the much-delayed warplane and its soaring costs in Washington last Friday.

Defending taxpayer dollars was the new mission. "We will always be vigilant with our stewardship of taxpayers' hard-earned dollars," Mr. Fantino said. "Canada has set a budget for replacement aircraft and we have been clear that we will operate within that budget." Here's the full statement. No mention of any F-35 commitment.

Mr. Cruise's script for Top Gun 2 hasn't been released.

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