F-35 Lightning II
In 2012 outgoing Premier Mario Monti announced plans to cut its order of Lockheed Martin's radar-evading F-35 fighter to 90 from the 131 the country agreed to buy in 2002. On 22 January 2013 Democratic Party (PD) leader Pier Luigi Bersani [and premier hopeful] said Italy needed to reduce spending on the controversial F-35 fighter plane. "We absolutely need to revise and limit military spending on F-35s because our priorities are elsewhere," he told Italian television. "Our priorities are not fighter jets but jobs". At that time the center-left PD was leading in polls.
Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II Program is providing Italy with the 5th Generation fighter that will ensure security for the next generation. Italy is a partner on the F-35 program and has signed the Production, Sustainment and Follow-On Development phase. Initially signed up in 2001 to buy 160 aircraft, but by 2011 the number was down to 131. In February 2012 Italy further reduced its purchase to 90 CTOL and STOVL variant aircraft. The Italian Air Force had envisaged buying 40 STOVL JSFs to replace its AMX fighter bombers, alongside 69 conventional JSFs to replace its Tornado aircraft. If the Italian Air Force dropped its B-purchase, Italy would still try to buy 22 of the F-35B to replace Harrier jump jets flown off the aircraft carrier Cavour.
This partnership will enable sharing technology with Italy's industrial base which will grant Italy an advanced technology leadership advantage for the future. As an F-35 partner, Italian industry has the opportunity to supply parts and systems, as well as influence the aircraft's design and capabilities. More than 20 Italian companies (the vast majority of the Italian defense industry) are involved in the development and production phase of the program: Alenia Aermacchi, Galileo Avionica, Selex Communications, Elsag Datamat and Otomelara of Finmeccanica Group and other non Finmeccanica's companies such as Aerea and Piaggio. Additionally, an F-35 final assembly and checkout facility (FACO) is being constructed at Cameri Air Base (Novara, Piedmont).
As a partner in the F-35 Lightning II program, Italian industry has the opportunity to support the F-35 for more than 30 years, from production of parts and final assembly of aircraft to replacement parts and regional sustainment work. From the beginning of the program, Italian industry has influenced the aircraft's design and capabilities. In fact, Italian-made parts and components are on every F-35 produced.
With this influence, more than 25 Italian companies (the vast majority of the Italian defense industry) are involved in the development and production phase of the program, including Alenia Aermacchi, Galileo Avionica, Selex Communications, Elsag Datamat and Otomelara of Finmeccanica Group and other companies such as Aerea and Piaggio. Additionally, an F-35 final assembly and checkout facility (FACO) is being constructed at Cameri Air Base (Novara, Piedmont).
The F-35 has best-value supplier strategy that ensures industrial participation not only on the aircraft Italy will buy, but on the global fleet of more than 3,000 aircraft. Italian workers and companies that are successful in F-35 production will be competitive in the global aerospace and manufacturing market for decades to come.
The F-35 Lightning II is the 5th Generation fighter that will ensure security for Italy’s next generation. All variants of the F-35 share the same advanced mission systems that give pilots a complete view of the battlespace. This integrated information, coupled with very low observable stealth, puts the best technology at pilots’ fingertips to allow them to accomplish their mission and get home safely.
Italy will receive 90 F-35 aircraft, a combination of F-35A conventional takeoff and landing variants and F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing jets. With this mix of aircraft, Italian forces will be able to land virtually anywhere, including bases, damaged airstrips, remote locations and air-capable ships.
Italy is part of a global F-35 program partnership that will increase interoperability between allied nations. With pilots around the world flying the F-35, Italian Forces will be able to share and receive information from the aircraft’s advanced mission systems with allies easily. The international program cooperation has already resulted in 5th Generation development costs shared between the nine partner nations. As more international operators begin flying the F-35, the global fleet will provide economies of scale on production, parts and sustainment throughout the life of the aircraft.
Some Italian media outlets are reporting misleading claims about the F-35 Lightning II. By 2012 the jet had flown to the corners of the flight test envelope and was meeting or exceeding expectations in performance. There are no insurmountable obstacles to successfully completing the development program on schedule in 2016.
CLAIM: Each F-35 costs $200 million (€146.5 million).
FACT: Aircraft manufactured in the early years of the program will cost more than those manufactured at peak production. The program office estimates that the F-35A will cost $70 million (€51.3 million) beginning in buy year FY2018.
CLAIM: The helmet for the F-35 costs $2 million (€1.4 million) each.
FACT: The current cost of the F-35 helmet is $600K (€439K) and is included in the total cost of the aircraft. It is expected this figure to decrease over time as the helmet continues to mature. The helmet is so expensive because the F-35 is the first modern fighter not to have a Heads Up Display [HUD], these functions being perfomed within the helmet.
CLAIM: The F-35’s helmet does not work properly and the plane cannot be flown without it.
FACT: By 2012 there had been more than 4,000 flights and 5,000 hours with the helmet and feedback from pilots at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Eglin AFB and at the production facility in Fort Worth, was that they like this helmet. Dedicated helmet tests were performed and the results, while positive, indicated there were a few areas for improvement. The specific improvements were already underway. The F-35 can be flown manually without the helmet if necessary.
CLAIM: The tail of the F-35 catches fire at supersonic speeds.
FACT: This is patently false. During flight test, it was discovered that at the very corner of the supersonic envelope it was possible to experience some coating degradation. A new process for applying the coating resolved the issue. The new process would be tailored for each variant.
CLAIM: The software on the F-35 is a “disaster.”
FACT: There is an agreed upon plan with the JPO for software development and we are executing to that plan. The fielded Block 1 and 2 software is performing very well. Successful results in flight test produced positive pilot feedback at Edwards AFB, NAS Patuxent River and Eglin AFB.
Critics of the Italian Navy's order for 131 F-35B claimed that cancellation would save about 16 billion EUR (circa 21 billion USD) in acquisition costs over a decade. Critics cited the F-35B development problems and uncertain future as a good reason to cancel or freeze the order, saying the projected loss of 2.5 billion EUR in promised industrial benefits would be a reasonable price to pay.
The cancellation wouldl mean the end of Italian Navy's fixed wing aviation: with the eventual demise of the current AV8B+ complement, the Navy's two STOVL carriers might have to be converted as rotary wing-only platforms. Some say that Italy is a "natural aircraft carrier" in the middle of the Mediterranean. Few operational theaters in the area are out of reach for land based missions, and Italy has not been a major player in the power projection business. The Swedish however, are ready to offer Italy their petite JAS-39M Sea Gripen variant, powered by a single EJ-200(230) turbojet engine, adapted from the Eurofighter. The 244 meter long Cavour carrier ship can be adapted to operate the Sea Gripen if the flight deck is lenghtened to at least 215 meters (currently it is only 188 meters long). Sky-jump ramp and arrestor wires are enough, as the Sea Gripen does not demand use of steam catapults.
Italy has assembled the first F-35B outside the US, at the same factory where British jets will eventually be overhauled. The final assembly and check out (FACO) factory in Cameri, about 99km (60 miles) northeast of Turin, delivered its first F-35B on 05 May 2017. Although the factory has already built seven F-35As, this is the first short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B variant to be assembled there. The F-35B in question, known as BL-1, will be flown to the US for "electromagnetic environmental effects certification".
Italy will not buy more Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets and is considering the possibility of maintaining the order with which it has already pledged, said 06 JUly 2018, the Minister of Defence, Elisabetta Trenta. Trenta comes from the five-star Antisystem movement, which has always been critical of Italy's order of 90 aircraft, saying that money could be spent better to increase welfare and help the lax Italian economy. "We won't buy more F-35 ?, Trenta said in a television interview in the bus program of the private network La 7. "We are evaluating what to do with the contracts that are already in force."
He explained several reasons to be cautious about the contracts that are in effect and said that eliminating them completely "could have strong economic penalties, eliminating the order of the order could cost us more than to keep it" and this is one of the Motives that are withholding the government, he explained. Termination of the contract may have a negative impact on Italian workers working in production. He also mentioned the benefits in terms of technological activity and research linked to airplanes, as well as the jobs that would be lost.
The previous government ordered some 90 of the fifth-generation jets for its military, but by late 2018 the Five Star and Lega parties, which won the last election, wasd trying to either scrap the deal or reduce spending on it. The Italian government planned to reduce the number of F-35 jets it will buy over the next five years from 10 to six or seven aircraft, Defence News reported 12 November 2018 citing an anonymous source. According to the media outlet, Rome will not reduce the total amount of ordered jets, but instead will leave the final decision on their fate to the next government.
The move will allow Italy to avoid or reduce contract penalties and free up some resources for the government's commitments, Defence Minister Elisabetta Trenta told the media . "What I would like to do is lighten the load, since we have other spending commitments in Europe. We will try to stretch out deliveries instead of cutting the order, which would reduce offsets and mean penalties," she said.
The Five Star and Lega parties, part of the current government, had opposed the F-35 deal. The defence ministry studied the 20-year old agreement in early 2019. The assessment was finished in march 2019, and the issue was expected to be discussed at the summit level by the Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Donald Trump.
Defence Minister Elisabetta Trenta would authorise a 389-million-euro ($440 million) payment for F-35 jets under the 1998 deal with the US aircraft maker Lockheed Martin. After the payment is completed, they will carry out a revision of the program. Rome will not reduce the total amount of jets ordered but instead will leave the final decision to the next government to avoid or reduce contract penalties and free up some resources.
Chief of Staff of the Italian Air Force, General Alberto Rosso expressed “strong concern about the uncertainty” of the F-35 program and its funding while speaking in the country’s parliament. He insisted that Italy should not decrease the number of jets, planned to be purchased for the republic’s Air Force. "The F-35 is not just a combat vehicle but a cultural revolution that radically changes the way armed forces operate”, he said, as quoted by Ansa, also expressing a fear that an alternative to them are "older and more expensive jets”.
Italian Defence Minister Lorenzo Guerini said on 09 October 2019 that his country intended to renew its fleet of F-35 stealth-fighter jets despite differing opinions on the program among the ruling coalition. "I can assure you that Italy's participation in the F-35 program meets these objectives and is dictated by [efficiency and effectiveness] needs." Guerini, a member of the ruling Democratic Party (PD), told Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera in an interview.
Previous and current government officials have flip-flopped stances on the fate of the program. Guerini's predecessor Elisabetta Trenta said in a televised 2018 interview that Italy would not buy any more F-35s. According to media reports, the Lega party, which was part of the previous coalition government, advocated for the purchase of enough F-35s as a means to fulfill the 2 percent GDP defense spending quota required of NATO members. Lega was banished during the government crisis earlier this year. Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte, part of M5S, has assured US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Italy would stick to its commitment of buying 90 F-35s.
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