The first F-35 delivered outside the U.S. was taken on charge by the Italian Air Force.
On Dec. 3, Lt. Gen. Pasquale Preziosa, Chief of the Italian Air Force, welcomed the first Italian F-35A at the F-35 Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility at Cameri, in northwestern Italy.
Not only is the AL-1 (as the aircraft is designated) the first F-35 for the Italian armed forces but it is also the first assembled and delivered outside the U.S.
With the delivery of its first aircraft, Italy becomes the sixth nation to receive an F-35 joining Australia, Netherlands, Norway, United Kingdom and the U.S. that already operate the aircraft at various airbase across the United States.
The aircraft for the Italian Air Force, that made its very first flight from Cameri airbase on Sept. 7, it’s the first of eight aircraft currently being assembled at the Italian FACO that will assemble all the remaining F-35A and F-35B for the Italian Air Force and Navy, and build F-35A for the Royal Netherlands Air Force.
AL-1 will be delivered to Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, in 2016 (with the support of an Italian Air Force KC-767 tanker, the first international tanker to refuel the JSF) where Italy’s first two pilots have recently begun F-35 flight training..
Italy is a Tier II partner in the F-35 program. So far, the Government has invested 3.5 billion USD in the program with an industrial return, in terms of contracts signed, that amounts to +1 billion USD.
That said, industrial participation in the program includes Alenia Aeronautica supplying wing sets (about 75% of Italy’s participation in the program) and other companies of the Finmeccanica group supplying work on some of those quite critical systems, including the EOTS (Electro-Optical Targeting System).
Despite the cuts, the program has attracted a significant chunk of Italy’s defense budget: for this reason the F-35 surely the most famous defense program in Italy. And the most controversial. So much so that it has become a very “sensitive” subject.
A large part of the public opinion, as well as many Italian lawmakers are against it, because they believe that the about 13 billion Euro for the F-35 and no significant industrial gains can’t co-exist with the country’s fragile public finances. However, as a consequence of the cuts (from 131 to 90 examples, with the “promise” to consider more cuts if needed), the assignment of the European FACO to Cameri, and a significant investment already done (Rome remains the second largest contributing partner after the UK) the Italian Government has been able to save the F-35 and ensure the Italian Air Force its 5th generation aircraft to replace the ageing (and for this reason costly) AMX and Tornado fleets, and the Navy its F-35Bs to replace the AV-8B+ Harrier jump jets.
Image credit: Lockheed Martin’s Thinh Nguyen