OTTAWA, May 26 (Reuters) - Canada, which has repeatedly put off a decision on replacing its ageing CF-18 fighter jets, could be in a position to order a fleet of new planes by 2020, the defense department said on Thursday.
In a guide to defense firms posted online, the Department of National Defence said it hoped to award the contract between 2018 and 2020 and said the final jets should be delivered between 2026 and 2036.
A department spokeswoman said the guide was preliminary and the dates could easily change.
Among the possible contenders are Lockheed-Martin Corp's F-35, Boeing Co's F/A-18E/F fighters, Dassault Aviation SA's Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon - jointly made by BAE Systems PLC, Finmeccanica SpA and Airbus Group.
Canada's ruling Liberals won an election last October on a promise not to buy F-35s because the planes were too expensive. Since taking power, though, government officials have been much less definitive about ruling out the plane from any future competition.
The previous Conservative government announced in 2010 it would buy 65 F-35 jets, but abandoned the plan in 2012 after a probe found officials had deliberately downplayed the costs and risks of the deal.
The Conservatives subsequently restarted the competition. But the Liberals scrapped this effort upon taking power, saying they would begin the whole process again.
As the process became more protracted, Ottawa announced in 2014 it would extend the lifespan of the CF-18s to 2025 from 2020. (Reporting by David Ljunggren and Leah Schnurr; Editing by Dan Grebler)