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Audit report highlights Italy's F-35 challenges

Italy wants to move its four Lockheed Martin F-35As allocated to an international training school in the USA to Europe, to support its operational preparations with the type, according to an audit office report published on 7 August.

“The [Italian] administration has signalled its intention to renegotiate an agreement with the US government in order to recover the four aircraft destined to training and assign them to operational activities as soon as possible," the Court of Audit-produced document says. "Obtaining a critical mass of aircraft should allow the full employment of the system’s operational potential by the end of 2018."

One of the reasons for the requested change is a previous Italian decision to slow the rate at which it will acquire the F-35. This restructuring reduced from 29 to 22 the number of aircraft to be funded until 2021 – 17 conventional take-off and landing F-35As, and five B-model short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) examples.

The report indicates that Italy's defence ministry has now authorised contracts with Lockheed and F135 engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney for 10 F-35As and 2 F-35Bs, through the programme's low-rate initial production (LRIP) batches 6 to 10. It has halved the planned number of aircraft included in LRIP 10 to two, after securing an agreement to move the others to LRIP 11 without penalty.

In 2012 Italy reduced the size of its total planned F-35 order from 131 aircraft to 90. A memorandum of understanding signed with the USA covering LRIP batches 12 to 14 will deliver a further 8 A-model aircraft for its air force and nine STOVL jets for the navy.

Rome had spent €3.5 billion ($4.1 billion) on the F-35 programme by the end of last year, covering its system development and demonstration phase, aircraft procurements and investment in a final assembly and check-out line and maintenance, a repair and overhaul and upgrade facility at Cameri air base, and other base infrastructure costs.

Flight Fleets Analyzer records the Italian air force as having received eight of its aircraft so far, with another example and the navy's first F-35B to follow before the end of this year.

The report says Italian companies had secured contracts worth €2.3 billion linked to the F-35 programme by the end of 2016, with Leonardo's share worth €1.8 billion. Industry participation has been limited by procurement delays, as well as a "best value" policy applied while allocating international workshare and US non-disclosure policies, it notes.

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