Although nothing is official yet, it’s hard to believe the Italian military’s plan to buy 90 F-35 stealth fighters to replace its aging fleet of air force Tornado IDS and AMX fighter-bombers and navy AV-8B+ jump jets will survive the spending cuts the new cabinet has already announced.
Italy plans to save 3 billion Euro—that’s $4.18 billion—by reducing the defense budget over the next three years. The money will come from selling some barracks and military buildings, from a reduction in personnel and from cut to some top spending programs—first of all the F-35, on which the government has so far committed to spend some 12 billion Euro.
The F-35 order will be “revised,” the government has said. That means cuts are certain. But it’s almost impossible to predict the extent of the revision.
Some media outlets have predicted a drastic cut of 45 planes, half of the current planned fleet and about one third of the initial requirement of 131 stealth fighters.
The center-left Democratic Party defense committee has just published a paper about the current state of Italy’s weapons systems, highlighting the need for a significant reduction in F-35 procurement.
According to the study, the program doesn’t guarantee major gains for Italian industry, suffers too much cost variability and does not include the price of munitions—plus the U.S. won’t allow Italy access to core F-35 technologies, a veritable embargo which guarantees “operational dependency” on the Americans.
The 10-page paper in Italian, downloadable here, envisions an air force with two front-line combat planes—the F-35 and the Eurofighter Typhoon. The document highlights the Typhoon’s multi-role capability.
So far, the Italian air force has employed its nearly 100 Typhoons strictly as air-superiority platforms. Reductions in F-35s could compel Rome to use the Typhoons in a ground ground-attack role, too, like the U.K. does.
Another issue raised by the document is the cost of the “operational redundancy” resulting from the Italian navy possessing two aircraft carriers. One could head for the breakers. The most obvious candidate is the elderly Garibaldi, Italy’s first post-war carrier.
The navy got the larger and more capable Cavour in 2008. The sailing branch could sell Garibaldi to some emerging country looking for a second-hand helicopter carrier able to support amphibious assault operations.
In the meantime, you can place a bid to buy Garibaldi on eBay, thanks to some jokester’s listing.
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