ROME - The Five Star and Lega parties, part of the current Italian government, have opposed a F-35 deal with the US aviation giant. The defence ministry has studied the 20-year old agreement over the last few months. The assessment has been finished, and the issue is reportedly expected to be discussed at the summit level, an Italian news agency reports.
According to the news agency, Defence Minister Elisabetta Trenta will authorise a 389-million-euro ($440 million) payment for F-35 jets under the 1998 deal with the US aircraft maker Lockheed Martin.
The outlet cites a government source as saying that after the payment is completed, they will carry out a revision of the programme, as was earlier announced. The source pointed at "some doubts" remaining about the agreement. According to the publication, there are questions about the agreements signed by the previous government. There had reportedly been a delay due to a "technical assessment" about purchasing US F-35 fighter jets, which has now been completed, ANSA says. The results are to be referred to the prime minister and the matter will be discussed by the country's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and US President Donald Trump, the news agency revealed.
However, the planned revision has raised concerns among personnel in the military, according to ANSA.
Chief of Staff of the Italian Air Force, General Alberto Rosso expressed "strong concern about the uncertainty" of the F-35 programme and its funding while speaking in the country's parliament. He insisted that Italy should not decrease the number of jets, planned to be purchased for the republic's Air Force.
"The F-35 is not just a combat vehicle but a cultural revolution that radically changes the way armed forces operate", he said, as quoted by Ansa, also expressing a fear that an alternative to them are "older and more expensive jets".
Conte spoke about the assessment last year when he presented cuts to Italy's defence spending by around 0.5 million euros ($0.57 million) and shelved the creation of a so-called Italian Pentagon. He noted then that his government "had not spent a single euro on the F-35".
The previous government ordered some 90 of the fifth-generation jets for its military, but the Five Star and Lega parties, which won the last election, have been trying to either scrap the deal or reduce spending on it. In 2018 reports emerged that the Italian government is planning to reduce the number of F-35 jets it will buy over the next five years from 10 to six or seven aircraft. According to Defence News, Rome will not reduce the total amount of jets ordered but instead will leave the final decision to the next government to avoid or reduce contract penalties and free up some resources. The savings are expected to help Rome fund its social programmes and tax cuts, the outlet reports.