On Feb. 7, 2012, Gen. Claudio Debertolis, head of the agency that is responsible for the procurement of new armaments, has announced that Italy has already ordered the first three Lockheed Martin F-35s.
Unit price: 80 million USD.
Talking to the lower house’s defense commitee, Debertolis explained that these first planes will cost more than the rest of the fleet since costs are going to decrease as the program, currently in Low Rate Initial Production, continues. The Italian high rank officer is particularly optimistic, as he believes that the unit price will be around 70 million each (Lockheed Martin estimates 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.
Quite surprising, since unit price is one of the JSF partner’s main concern, but possible, considering also that the Typhoon has just lost India’s mother of all tenders based on price.
Although there’s no official commitment yet, the initial requirement for Italy foresaw 131 examples (69 conventional take-off and landing F-35As and 62 of the short take-off and vertical landing variant F-35Bs). Debertolis confirmed that determining how many aircraft Italy will purchase is not a current task, since it will depend on the Defense Budget Review. Nevertheless, even if the number of aircraft will be much lower than the initial 131, the MoD will work to make sure that the industry will get the expected compensation.
Italy is working on stretching deliveries and slowing purchase “a much easier task than that with the Eurofighter program, since the F-35 procurement is modular therefore delays don’t imply increasing costs” Debertolis said.
Furthermore with the recent Eurofighter defeat in India, Italy is going to stop working on the Typhoon and “divert” part (if not all) of its workforce towards the F-35, being assembled at the Cameri FACO (Final Assembly and Check Out) facility.
Finally, Debertolis has confirmed that Italy will have both A and B variants, with the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) ones serving both the Air Force and the Navy, that will use them on the Cavour aircraft carrier.
In spite of the widespread criticism surrounding the program and the global financial crisis it looks like the F-35 has, if not a bright future ahead, at least good chances to survive the austerity measures of the new Monti’s technocratic cabinet.
Image credit: Lockheed Martin
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