Italy’s F-35 stealth fighter purchase review signals more cuts ahead.

Jun 27 2013 - 2 Comments

Even if the Italian Air Force considers it “essential” for the future of the service in the next 20 years, the F-35 program will be reviewed for 6 months, as a consequence of the lower-house motion supported by the Letta cabinet presented on Jun. 26, 2013.

Based on the new motion, Italy’s participation in the program will not be cancelled, but parliament will have to approve any further stage of the 5th generation multi-role fighter jet purchase.

The new motion, passed 381 to 149 votes, calls on the government to push for more European Union defense projects integration to reduce military spending and defeated an opposition motion in favor of quitting the program.

On Feb. 15, 2012 former Italian Minister of Defense announced Italy’s plan to purchase 90 F-35s out of the original 131.

41 aircraft were be scrapped leaving the Italian Air Force and Navy with less than F-35 in the A and B version to replace about 300 current aircraft, including the Air Force’s Tornado and AMX, and the Navy’s AV-8B+ Harrier II on board the Cavour aircraft carrier, both involved in the Air War in Libya.

Italy plans to spend about 12 billion Euro on the aircraft over 45 years, starting in 2015. Considered the mounting pressure around the program, both within the coalition party and the opposition, and the need for the government to address the huge public debt and limit the budget deficit, a further reduction in the amount of planes that will be eventually procured seems to be not only likely but inevitable.

F-35B and C

Image credit: Lockheed Martin

Delays and cost overruns have raised the projected unit price from 75 million to 133 million USD, even if, in February 2012, Italian head of the agency that is responsible for the procurement of new armaments said that the unit price will be around 70 million each (Lockheed Martin estimated 65M USD for the F-35A and about 73M USD for the F-35B), less than the 79 million USD currently paid for the Eurofighter Typhoon and much less of the 121 million USD per aircraft anticipated in 2011.

Unit price depends also on the foreign sales. U.S. have commitments from allies to buy as many as 500 jets. Last year, The Economist warned that the program is in danger of slipping into the “death spiral” where increasing unit costs would lead to cuts in number of ordered plane, leading to further costs that would boost order cuts.

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  • JohnJubly

    Can you give us a source for the $79 million Typhoon cost? Last I heard flyaway was north of $120 million USD. Or are you talking about the used jets nobody wants to buy?

  • Tacsk0

    Hello,

    I think Italy will eventually drop the JSF option entirely and decide to co-manufacture Gripen airframes with its neighbouring Switzerland. For the two countries combined, the fleet size would be large enough to warrant local manufacture, rather than importing whole planes from Sweden.

    The Gripen easily accepts the EJ-200/230 engine (for Italy’s Typhoon commodity) since she was originally designed around that engine by BAE. The swiss will have Gripens powered by the F-414 (EPE or EDE?). Swiss participation in the fuselage manufacture would also cement the Gripen’s victory in their upcoming popular vote.

    Gripen has almost 1/3rd the flying cost compared to the large sized Eurofighter, making her an ideal replacement for the leased italian F-16 fleet, which Rome foolishly returned to the USA last year. The Eurofigher twinjet is simply not affordable to keep in the air at a time when the italian national debt is over 100%. Italian mainland and the Adria are easily patrolled by the Gripen and a few Typhoons will suffice for the Mediterranean open sea areas.

    The little “neo A-4″ Sea Gripen would also be ideal for the italian Cavour flattop carrier ship, as the latin Harriers are aging rapidly and the F-35B is getting nowhere. Without the Sea Gripen the italian naval flaghip will be downgraded to a super expensive “helicopter cruiser”.

    Selling the Gripen to Italy would also be a great success for SAAB, because such a victory opens the way to brasilian sales (just think of the AMX light attack jet cooperation programme). From Brazil, the Gripen will be able to conquer the entire South America.

    Best regards: Tamas Feher, Hungary.