The Canadian Government is set to start negotiations with Lockheed Martin to acquire F-35 jets to strengthen its firepower to combat emerging threats.

The move comes after the government selected top-ranked bidder Lockheed Martin in a competitive process that involves procuring 88 advanced fighter jets for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).

This comes more than three months after Canada selected Saab and Lockheed Martin as finalists for the programme.

According to a statement, the Canadian Government will now enter the finalisation phase of the procurement with the company and the US Government.

The contract may value up to C$19bn ($15.1bn), making it the most significant investment in the RCAF in more than 30 years.

If the negotiations fail, Canada will enter talks with the other contender, Saab, for the Gripen jet.

Canadian Minister of National Defence Anita Anand said: “It is critical that current and future Royal Canadian Air Force pilots have the most advanced equipment available to ensure they can deliver on the important work that we ask of them.

“This procurement project for the RCAF – the largest in over three decades – will help ensure Canada can continue to defend North America, enhance our Arctic sovereignty and meet our Nato and NORAD obligations in the face of current and emerging threats.”

The new jets are expected to replace Canada’s ageing F-18 fighters. The government aims to award the contract this year and start receiving F-35s from 2025.

Canadian Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry François-Philippe Champagne said: “This is one of the largest aerospace procurements in decades, and the resulting economic benefits will help sustain and grow this key industry’s global leadership position.”