Italy will not buy F-35s anymore, mulls walking out of existing contracts – Defense Minister
The anti-establishment Italian government's defense minister has said that the country won't purchase any more Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets from the US and will review the existing order for 90 planes.
Elisabetta Trenta, the country's new minister of defense from the Eurosceptic Five Star Movement, has ruled out new contracts with the US for the purchase of F-35 stealth fighter jets, adding that the order for 60 F-35A and 30 F-35B jets, which Italy concluded in 2012, might be placed under review.
"We won't buy any more F-35s," Trenta said in an interview with Italian broadcaster La7's Omnibus program on Friday.
"We are assessing what to do regarding the contracts already in place," she added, noting that while her party has always been a vocal critic of the program, she said that scrapping it altogether may "cost us more than maintaining it."
The fact that the cancellation of the bulk deal and the resulting "strong financial penalties" might cost the Italian budget a hefty sum is one of the main reservations that is holding the government back, she explained.
The termination of the contract can negatively impact Italian workers who are employed in the production, she said, listing other merits of the deal such as "technological activity" and "important research" in a Facebook post accompanying the interview
Italy became the only country with an F-35B assembly line outside the US. In May 2017, it rolled out the first jets. However, they had to be delivered to the US Navy base in Maryland for certification and crew training.
The line in Cameri is set to produce a total of 30 F-35Bs to be delivered to the Italian Navy, Italian Air Force and the Royal Netherlands Air Force.
Back in 2012, Italy already downsized its initial order for 135 jets to 90 as it was battling with a sovereign debt crisis.
The March general election in Italy, following weeks of uncertainty and political bickering, propelled a new government of the right-wing Lega Nord and anti-establishment Five Star Movement to power. The fact that it is now a part of the ruling coalition might have put some constraints on the party's policy, which has always been in stark opposition to the costly program.
As the party presented its defense manifesto in May last year, Tatiana Basilio, then a Five Star MP in the parliament, said that "there will be no ifs or buts about leaving the F-35 program" if her party clinched the vote.
"€14 billion for 90 F-35s is too costly and we are putting ourselves in the hands of the US," Basilio said at the time.
One aircraft currently costs Italy €51.3 million, while, overall, it has to spend some €14 billion on the jets.
Meanwhile, the program has been bogged down by unresolved technical issues, such as faulty helmets, malfunctioning ejector seats and overblown costs.