The freeze in the payments, according to italian defence analysts, actually applies only to the early long lead orders for the LRIP 10 production lot, for which negotiation began in february this year. The firm order for the production of these aircraft would come in 2016.
In the meanwhile, the acquisition of the 3 F-35A of LRIP 6, the 3 F-35A of LRIP 7 is going ahead. These are the only aircraft that Italy has signed definitive contracts for. In this summer, Italy will also sign the production contract for LRIP 8, with two F-35A, while next year there will be the order for LRIP 9. See the previous article for details of the production schedule for Italy, which was restructured in 2013.
Important news have come from Israeli officers, which, after voicing their intention to open a MRO line for their F-35s in Israel are now opening up to the idea of sending their aircraft to the single MRO facility for the European and Mediterranean area, which is supposed to eventually be located in the Cameri FACO, in Italy. The best chance for Italy to get a long term economic and technical return is to be selected as location for the single MRO facility: that would mean maintaining USAFE, Israeli, dutch, british and norwegian F-35s over the coming decades, assuming that negotiations with all these countries go ahead.
Italy has held preliminary talks with other F-35 partners, and the Cameri FACO is going to assemble the F-35s for the Netherlands. Italy, in exchange, will send its F-135 engines in the Netherlands for depot maintenance. It is widely expected that Netherlands will continue to lean on the Italian FACO for the regular depot maintenance of its jets.
United Kingdom and Norway have, in recent times, concluded preliminary collaboration agreements over the F-35: the scenario that is taking shape sees the brits standing up an Integrated Training Centre in the UK, which norwegian pilot could use to avoid the costs of sending their personnel all the way to Luke AFB, in the USA. The British would reciprocate by sending their F-135 engines to Norway for maintenance. None of the two countries will have a MRO depot, so for deep maintenance they are faced by the choice between Cameri or the US.
While Italy is currently planning to have its pilots trained in the US, it can be reasonably assumed that negotiations will be made to have italian pilots trained in the UK's ITC instead, in exchange for a depot maintenance agreement. Negotiations should also eventually resume with Norway, with which Italy had held successful preliminary talks in the early 2000s.
One of the greatest critiques moved to the F-35 program is the industrial and workshare returns aren't satisfactory: the biggest source of work, the depot maintenance, is a promise currently not guaranteed by firm contracts. Forging firm agreements in this area would be a major boost to the popularity of the F-35 program in Italy, so the Israeli opening is particularly important.
It is evident that these industrial plans, and the international agreements already signed or hoped for will have to be considered as part of the White Paper. While workshare returns as of now appear uncertain and mostly based on the conclusion of future collaboration deals, excessive cutbacks to Italy's committment to the program could be the death blow to the hopes of making of Cameri a winning investment.
There are at least two requisites for which Italy absolutely needs the F-35, and in both the A and B variants: the F-35A, at the bare minimum, is needed to replace the Tornado IDS in the NATO tactical nuclear bomber role. At least a squadron of F-35A, eventually to receive integration with the B61-12 nuclear bomb, is planned to replace the current "nuclear" squadron on Tornado on the Ghedi air base.
Another group is needed, with F-35B this time, to equip the aircraft carrier Cavour.
Current plans include further F-35A to replace Tornado IDS in the strike role and AMX aircraft in CAS role, in up to three other squadrons. One air force group on F-35B as CAS asset is also planned.
While a reduction from 90 aircraft is almost certain, halving the order would have a dramatic effect on the future of the air force, and defence chiefs are unsurprisingly already pushing back with their full force against the misinformed attacks.
Attacks which are misinformed for real. Let's see what the document produced by the PD members in the defence committee says.
The document that backs the cuts
The internal document produced by Partito Democratico (PD) members that have taken part, over the past months, to multiple hearins with the armed forces chiefs and industry representatives has been revealed to the press. The document is born out of the initiative of Gian Piero Scanu, head of the PD group in the Defence Committee and a well known enemy of defence spending, which never fails to show his very lacking understanding of defence matters. As was to be expected, the document looks like the product of an hour of the attention of an 8-year old boy.
On the F-35 story, which is the one which caught the international attention the most, the document reaches its top levels. The document says it is necessary to explore other solutions for the renewal of the Navy's fighter fleet, made up of STOVL aircraft, the only ones which can take off from the relatively small aircraft carrier Cavour. It will be a short exploration, since there isn't any alternative to the F-35B in this specific area.
The document also says that the air force is wrong in saying that the Typhoon has little to no air to ground capabilities and won't have them for several more years, even with big investments on the way. The Typhoon is "fully operational", the politicians say they have discovered in the hearings.
Of course it is. In the air defence role, since 2005. Big discovery. The real discovery, and this one truly does amaze everyone, is that there is a fully multirole Typhoon in production: it is called RAPHALE and it is the "french variant of Typhoon".
Well, i'm sure Eurofighter and Dassault will both be delighted of finding this out.
A big advantage of throwing more money into Typhoon by producing this "french variant" is that the "works-shearing" arrangements are more favorable than those of the F-35 program.
Il caccia multiruolo Typhoon, nella versione di attacco al suolo, non solo sarà prodotto, ma risulterà competitivo con il JSF della Lockheed. Questa versione dell'Eurofighter sarà messa a disposizione delle missioni UE, NATO e ONU da numerosi alleati europei (Austria, Spagna, Germania e Inghilterra, mentre la Francia utilizzerà la versione “Raphale”).
E' necessario quindi che il nostro Paese mantenga e rafforzi con convinzione la partecipazione delle aziende italiane a questo programma, tenendone sotto controllo i costi, ma anche avendo presente che il sistema di works-shearing, che tiene insieme tutti i programmi di cooperazione europea, garantisce ad ogni paese ritorni in nessun caso inferiori alle proprie quote di investimento.
|Sorry France, we should have told you earlier: you are apparently building a Typhoon variant named RAPHALE...|
Yes, the Rafale is a multi-role aircraft with air to ground capabilities much more developed than the Typhoon's, and with an AESA radar already in production.
But, sorry Scanu, it is not in any way a Typhoon variant named Raphale...
The "Raphale" is not the only priceless discovery of this document. The terrible english isn't, either. Not even the terrible italian used in some passages, even if it is rape on Dante's language.
The programs of the Navy are seen favorably by the politicians (the new defence minister Roberta Pinotti, born in Genova, has her electoral base in the area of the shipyards which would build the new ships, so for this and other reasons it is not surprising) but even here, of course, they call for some sacrifices. They say that Italy can't afford two aircraft carriers: well, they are a bit late with this discovery, since Italy already has only one aircraft carrier, the Cavour, and no plans to operate another. The older Garibaldi is tied up in port, receiving limited maintenance in the hope of being used for a few more years, but as an helicopter ship in support of amphibious operations, due to the very limited (if not non-existant) helicopter hangarage and maintenance facilities available on the tiny LPDs of the "Santi" class. Garibaldi is meant to be a gap filler on the way to the construction of a 20.000 tons LHD which would replace both her and one of the three Santi ships.
The savings from removing Garibaldi, due to her no longer having an air group and aircraft carrier ambitions, would actually be modest. The Navy has long been considering the option of doing away with the ship, and politicians would want to see Garibaldi sold.
The navy would be fine with selling her, but the problem is that the market isn't really big for ships of this kind: old, manpower-intensive and without air group (Harriers these days are rare and precious, and with the british GR9s sold as spare parts to the US Marines, there really isn't any Harrier on sale anywhere). Any buyer would only be able to put helicopters on her, and even in this role Garibaldi would have to beat the rivalry of the spanish Principe de Asturias, which Spain would also gladly sell off.
The document also makes a mess of the italian army's plans, all of them apparently collectively grouped up under the heading "Forza NEC" and under a notional, impressive and almost certainly wildly speculative pricetag of "20 billions", which obviously should be re-thought. How? Who knows. They seem to be putting in the same basket things such as the future soldier system (Soldato Futuro), the Iveco Lince 4x4 vehicle, the Orso VTMM in all its variants, the modernization of the Ariete MBT, the purchase of the Freccia 8x8 armored vehicle family for the medium weight brigades and many other programs.
The PD politicians are somehow convinced that Forza NEC is not able to operate alongside similar NATO network enabled system of systems, and want european standardization. In part, this might be true, and it would indeed be desirable to achieve better synergies in European defence programs, but sorry Scanu: France, Germany and UK and others aren't exactly going to listen to what you have to say, i fear, and readily follow your orders.
Finally, Scanu sneaks in another big plan of his: getting rid of the army training grounds in italy, particularly the most important and strategic of them, like Capo Teulada and the weapons training range of Salto di Quirra, in his native Sardinia.
Scanu hates the army's range on the island, it is not a new thing. He has recently stated that the italian army should close all its ranges, in favor of using a "multinational training range" which should be developed in Europe. Somewhere. Anywhere but not in Italy.
Of course, mr. Scanu. I can already see nations rushing forth with money and will to build a mega training range which can fullfil your dream of allowing all european armies to train in the same place.
The document is, thankfully, not so direct as Scanu was in interviews, but it still calls for rationalization of training areas at European level to build common ranges. It also calls for standardization on a single type of rifle, tactical vest, helmet, grenade etcetera. Which, mind you, does have its sense. But, again, it is wishful thinking. Especially since, of course, the unspoken bit of thought in Scanu's mind is that the european rifle should be italian, made by Beretta, as well as probably every other bit of kit the document quotes.
Good luck with getting the rest of Europe to agree.
Is this document serious, well researched, belieavable? No. It is junk. Even worse than i expected it to be.
Is it dangerous for the future of the italian armed forces and the F-35? Yes. Politicians of this kind, with this spectacular level of ignorance even after months of hearings and explanations by the defence chiefs (it is clear that lawmakers have listened to very little of what was said in the hearings), are dangerous for any and everything.
Will this document be torn apart in the next phase of studies and decision-making when it is brought before government? Yes. I very much hope and think so.
It is such a piece of garbage that it wouldn't surprise me if it was cancelled from the web to hide the stupidity of it, while a patched up variant is thrown together. Download it and preserve the memory of it: the Eurofighter RAPHALE asks you to do so!
Download link (in italian)
UPDATE: trade union that was reported as being happy with cuts to F-35 already starts backing off as it understands that a cut to F-35 will not mean more Typhoons. Says (with some reason) that Italy was unable to negotiate a truly advantageous deal in terms of technology and work sharing, but that it looks forwards to talking about a serious policy for defence and for investments in the defence field. Asks for a "rethink" on the F-35 program, not for cuts anymore. Better to seek better terms on the F-35 than hope in more Typhoons that were never going to come.
Trade union statement
Oh, and of course, nevermind that Forza NEC (Force NEC, from Network Enabled Capabilities) in the statement becomes NEK, an italian singer...