Feb 10, 2012
By Steve Scherer
ROME, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Italy seems certain to scale back its major investment in Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, heightening uncertainty over the troubled stealth jet's future.
Defence Minister Giampaolo Di Paola has said repeatedly since January that the country's originally planned order of the 131 supersonic warplanes by 2018 was being "reviewed" because military spending cuts were necessary as part of Prime Minister Mario Monti's austerity plan to shore up public accounts.
General Claudio Debertolis, secretary general of the Defence Ministry and the country's armaments chief, confirmed to lawmakers on Tuesday that cuts were expected.
"There will be a revision of this Joint Strike Fighter programme to align it with disposable resources," he said.
Italy will ask for about 30 fewer planes, Corriere della Sera daily reported on Friday, without citing its source. Panorama magazine gave the same number on Jan. 18.
Government sources and lawmakers told Reuters that it was premature to say how many of the F-35 fighters Italy will order because of uncertainty over the version of the aircraft designed for short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL).
This version is supposed to replace ageing Harrier jets on Italy's new hi-tech Cavour aircraft carrier.
On Tuesday Monti's Cabinet will examine the Defence Ministry's new spending plan that includes reducing F-35 outlays and personnel cuts, according to a government source. The minister will then detail the package to parliament on Wednesday.