Italy is aiming to slash €1.45 billion ($1.9 billion) from its defence procurement spending in 2012, with its plan to acquire 131 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning IIs likely to be in the firing line.

It previously indicated it would order a total of 131 of the type - 69 conventional take-off and landing F-35As and 62 of the short take-off and vertical landing variant F-35B. However, more recently, defence sources have suggested a reduction to the total order of between 20-30 units, with the majority of these F-35Bs.

Lockheed Martin F-35B JSF carrier landing,  

© Lockheed Martin

The procurement has come under fire in the Italian parliament for its anticipated total cost of €17.4 billion, with €2 billion already spent on the acquisition.

Despite the possible cuts to its purchase, Italy remains a key stakeholder in the Joint Strike Fighter's industrial team.

Giampaolo di Paola, the country's defence minister, on 30 January visited the site of the final assembly and check-out (FACO) facility for the JSF under construction at Cameri air base, near Novara in the north of the country.

The previous week, a Lockheed team headed by Tom Burbage, F-35 executive vice-president and general manager of programme integration, visited Rome to meet with Italy's industrial and government representatives.

The 60,000m² (646,000ft²) FACO, which incudes 20 new buildings and attendant infrastructure, is planned to be operational by the end of 2012. It will deliver the first Italian JSF, an F-35A, roughly two years later, said Burbage. The aircraft will then transfer to the USA to support the training of Italian air force pilots.

The site is earmarked to assemble and deliver around 80 F-35As for the Royal Netherlands Air Force in addition to those for Rome. It will also have the capacity to develop a maintenance, repair and overhaul and upgrade capability at a later stage.

The facility will also include Alenia Aermacchi's assembly line for wing section units, which is expected to produce around 1,200 kits for the nine-nation programme through to 2023.

Including Alenia Aermacchi, around 20 Italian companies are due to be involved in the F-35 programme.

Source: Flight International