Robert Harneis- TDO- (FRANCE)- The Italian government will not buy more US F35 fighter jets than the original 90 contracted for. They may cancel the existing contract although they understand that that will be difficult because of the drastic penalty clauses built into the deal and the job losses involved.
The decision follows the long-held policy of coalition member the 5-star Movement that the purchase is not in Italy’s interest because at a total cost of 14 billion it is too expensive and makes Italy dependent on the United States. The F35 has suffered from serious development problems and cost overruns.
Defense Minister Elisabetta Trenta comes from the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement which has always been critical of NATO member Italy’s order for 90 of the planes, saying the money could be better spent to boost welfare and help the sluggish economy.
“We won’t buy any more F-35s,” Trenta said in a television interview with private broadcaster La 7. “We are assessing what to do regarding the contracts already in place.”
She spelled out several reasons to be cautious, saying that “strong financial penalties” could mean that “scrapping the order could cost us more than maintaining it.” She also cited benefits in terms of technology and research in Italy linked to the planes, as well as jobs that would be lost.
However, Trenta said she saw merit in stretching out the purchases in order to free up resources for investments in European defense projects. Some 5-Star officials said last year that Italy should cancel the order for the fighters altogether, but Trenta made clear she had reservations about this.
The original contract allowed for the only F35 production facilities outside the United States at Cameri in Italy. The production line is set to produce a total of 30 F-35Bs to be delivered to the Italian Navy, Italian Air Force and the Royal Netherlands Air Force. However there has been dissatisfaction that levels of work done in Italy have not reached the levels promised.
In 2012, Italy already downsized its initial order for 135 jets to 90 as it was battling with a sovereign debt crisis.
The F-35 is made by Lockheed Martin Corp, with companies including Northrop Grumman Corp, United Technologies Corp’s Pratt & Whitney and BAE Systems Plc also involved.
The difficulty the Italian faces in withdrawing from the contract is a classic example of how European governments have allowed themselves to be entangled with the United States in vital defense matters. Whilst the contract may provide for essential Italian defense needs, it in no way contributes to Italy’s ability to act independently in its own interests.
The Italian government has shown over immigration that it is not afraid to ruffle EU feathers in Brussels. Now the F35 decision demonstrates that Italy’s new government is also prepared go against US interests.
However as with Europe the Italian government shows no signs of wishing to burn any unnecessary bridges. They are sending mixed signals on issues concerning the United States. During a visit by John Bolton US National Security Adviser, Trenta confirmed that the government will increase their military expenditure to 2% of GDP as the US government has repeatedly demanded but she said “we would also like our strong presence in military missions recognized as an added value”. Italy has also asked for US assistance in dealing with immigration problems at source in Libya and Niger.
Earlier this month Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he would like to end sanctions that were imposed on Moscow after Russia’s 2014 reunification with the Crimean Peninsula. Trenta shares his view. “We have to consider Italy’s strategic interests — sanctions have damaged Italian exports, and it would be a good idea to evaluate alternative instruments,” she said. “We see the U.S. as an ally, but we don’t see Russia as a threat — we see it as an economic partner,” she added during Bolton’s visit.
At the moment there is no sign of the Italian government pushing to reduce the enormous and no longer popular US military presence on its territory.