Italy's defence ministry is negotiating an 18-month extension to a lease contract for about half of its F-16ADF fighters, say Lockheed Martin officials.
The Italian air force operates 31 F-16A/Bs from the 34 aircraft delivered under a five-year deal with a five-year option signed in March 2001. The current agreement provides for an expected total of 45,000 flight hours, 33,000 of which have been flown by aircraft assigned to the service's 5th Wing at Cervia and 37th Wing at Trapani-Birgi, Sicily. Three aircraft have been lost in accidents.
An 18-month extension to the lease agreement could be signed by January 2009, and would allow the 37th Wing to retain about 15 F-16s until late 2012, maintaining Italy's air defence fleet above the minimum threshold required pending the full availability of its Eurofighters.
Italy's commitment to the Eurofighter programme stands at 121 aircraft to equip four interceptor wings. Deliveries of its 47 Tranche 2 Eurofighters are scheduled to begin soon, while Rome has yet to sign a Tranche 3 deal for its remaining 47 aircraft, along with programme partners Germany, Spain and the UK.