PARIS --- Italy’s Ministry of Defense has ignored a Parliamentary vote directing it to halve the amount budgeted for the purchase of F-35 fighters, and has confirmed its previous decision to order 90 F-35s.
The updated multi-year planning document (Documento programmatico pluriennale, DPP) for 2014-2017, released last week, maintains funding of over €10 billion for the acquisition program through 2027.
The only changes made by Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti are cosmetic: procurement will be spread out over a longer period, with a total of only 22 F-35As being procured over the next six years, while F-35 funds in the 2015 budget are trimmed by 10%, to €644.3 million. Next year, F-35 funding is set to increase again to €735.7 million. (In 2014, Italy spent €509.1 million on the F-35 program)
Significantly, by maintaining funding for 90 F-35s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Partito Democratico (PD) ruling party breaks a long-standing promise to halve the number of F-35s to 45 aircraft. It also disregards a motion by Parliament’s Lower House, which in September 2014 voted by a large majority to require the government to “review the entire F-35 program to clarify its costs, with the ultimate goal of having its original financial budget.”
Minister Pinotti disagrees, however, and on May 25 posted a Tweet saying her actions regarding the F-35 "are in full compliance with the motions of the House....and are always marked by maximum transparency."
F-35: scelte sensate nel pieno rispetto delle mozioni della Camera. Azioni ministro @robertapinotti sempre improntate a massima trasparenza— Ministero Difesa (@MinisteroDifesa) May 25, 2015
The DPP maintains the budget at previous levels, and Pinotti says that a previous cut, from 131 to 90 aircraft decided in 2012 by a previous government respects the letter of the September motion.
The rationale for keeping to earlier plans is that “The program needs financial stability to avoid losing the money that has already been invested," according to defense ministry sources quoted in Italian media reports.
To date, Italy has ordered eight F-35s, all of them F-35A Conventional Take-Off and Landing (CTOL) variants: three in Low Rate Initial Production Lot 6 (LRIP 6, for delivery in 2015-16), three in LRIP Lot 7 for delivery in 2016 and two more in LRIP Lot 8 for delivery in 2017.
Order and delivery schedule for Italian F-35 fighters
(Source: Italian MoD)
According to the DPP blueprint, 22 more will be ordered by 2019, while the remaining 60 will be ordered between 2020 and 2025, for delivery between 2022 and 2027, when deliveries are due to be completed.
The €10 billion price tag for 90 aircraft sets the average unit cost of Italy’s F-35s at about $122 million, which is probably not enough to pay for all 90 aircraft, and will no doubt require top-up funds in future years.
Moreover, when funds already spent are added, the total cost of Italy’s 90 F-35s works out to about $13.6 billion, including development, acquisition and logistic support, but neither operations nor maintenance or weapons, which will further boost costs.
The 90 F-35s planned by Italy are divided into 60 F-35A land-based conventional take-off fighters and 30 F-35B short take-off and vertical landing variants, of which half will be operated by the navy and half of the air force, which however has no operational requirement for such an aircraft.
The DPP also provides some figures about Italy’s investments in the F-35 program. To date, Italy has spent $1 billion in the SDD phase, now completed. It has also spent about €465 million for national program activities and investments, and an additional €795.6 million on the Final Assembly and Check‐Out / Maintenance, Repair, Check Overhaul & Upgrade (FACO / MRO&U) facility at Cameri air force base, near Novara, which have been fully paid.
Italy also is committed to spending $900 million during the Production Sustainment and Follow-on Development (PSFD) phase, which is due to end in 2047, and now to spending another €10 billion for acquisition and logistic support by 2027.
-- May 26: (1) Added Twitter comment by Italian defense minister (2) Corrected number of F-35s to be ordered by 2019 (22).
-- May 25: Replaced previous draft headline; corrected publication date to May 25.