Italian Parliamentary defence committees have approved the country's participation in the US-led Joint Strike Fighter programme, clearing the way for further participation in the project.

Italy's involvement in the programme began last April with the signing of a bilateral statement and memorandum of agreement, with the USA giving the country "informed partner" status in the concept-definition phase. Italy will commit $10 million for this stage. In return, it will receive information concerning this phase of the project, but it will not be involved significantly in project definition and will have no industrial involvement. Although military and local industry had sought greater participation, funding constraints prevented this.

The navy is primarily interested in buying around 24-30 of the projected US Marine Corps short take-off and landing version of JSF, for basing on the light carrier Guiseppe Garibaldi and on a new multirole aviation-capable ship.

The air force is studying the US Air Force conventional landing and take-off variant to replace the AMX and Panavia Tornado in the strike role. The Electronic Combat Reconnaissance Tornado will stay in service considerably longer.

Around 150-180 aircraft are likely to be required to equip around seven front-line squadrons, including attrition replacements. This would allow the air force to retain the Eurofighter EF2000 purely in an air-defence role, with the option for undertaking air-to-ground missions.

The involvement in the project highlights a political battle behind the scenes, in which the government is pressuring for industry involvement,while the air force is pushing for off-the-shelf purchases so that large amounts of money are not tied up in the research and development phase of projects, as happened with Eurofighter.

Source: Flight International