The Italian air force has slashed the number of Lockheed F-104 Starfighters which it intends to put through what is effectively a continuing service-life-extension programme.

The air force originally planned to implement an upgrade on 106 of its ageing F-104s, to cover the delays in the entry into service of the Eurofighter EF2000. Budget pressures, however, have forced it to cut back to 64 the number of aircraft being upgraded.

The upgrade is to be carried out by Alenia, which will modify electrical and hydraulic-systems, together with Fiat Avio, which will address engine changes. An upgraded inertial-navigation systems is also to be introduced.

A total of 49 single seat F-104s and 15 two-seat trainer TF-104s is earmarked to undergo the life-extension programme. The remaining 52 aircraft originally included in the upgrade project will be withdrawn from service as they reach the next airframe-hours limit for return to depot maintenance.

Defence sources indicate that the reason the programme has been cut is because of the impact of the 1% growth cap set on the budget by the Italian treasury. The operational budget has been especially hard hit, leaving pilots struggling to meet the NATO- recommended 180 flight hours a year. Pilots are reported to be "happy" to log 150h.

While cutting the number of aircraft to be upgraded will go some way to alleviating budgetary pressures, even more may yet have to be cut from the F-104 programme, say some sources.

Source: Flight International