Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Italy Shuffles JSF STOVL Schedule, Mulls Cut In Numbers

By TOM KINGTON Published: 8 Dec 2010 06:31
Italy may reconsider its planned order of STOVL Joint Strike Fighters for its Air Force and has scrapped a plan to take delivery of the STOVL variant before the conventional JSF, a senior government official has said.
The doubts over the Air Force's purchase STOVL JSFs and the decision to push back planned delivery of the aircraft were prompted by the UK pull out from the program, fears over costs and doubts raised over the aircraft's future in the U.S., said defense undersecretary Guido Crosetto.
"We may yet decide not to order the STOVL JSF for the Air Force, and instead order only conventional JSFs," Crosetto said. "We are discussing it right now."
The Air Force has envisaged buying 40 STOVL JSFs to replace its AMX fighter bombers, alongside 69 conventional JSFs to replace its Tornado aircraft.
Currently. the Air Force retains the STOVL variant as a firm requirement, suggesting one alternative scenario could be a reduction in the STOVL order by the Air Force, as opposed to an outright cut.
The Italian navy is meanwhile seeking to buy 22 STOVL aircraft to replace the AV8s due to fly from its new carrier the Cavour.
"The UK decision and the rumors from America do not leave us indifferent," said Crosetto, who has represented the Italian government on talks over Italian JSF work share and the construction of a final assembly line for the aircraft in Italy.
"Italy wanted the STOVL for both Navy and Air Force. The first thing we need to do is look closely at those we wanted for the Air Force, mainly because it costs 30 percent more and it is difficult to be the only one left sustaining it while other countries are making reductions and even the Americans are reconsidering it."
"For the navy and for the Cavour it is essential. For it to be of use, the Cavour needs STOVL aircraft. But I believe the Marines will need it, so at the end of the day the aircraft will probably be built," he said.
"However, the concern is that if fewer are built, the costs will rise and we are now asking the Americans for details."
Crosetto said that in order to accommodate hold-ups of the STOVL program in the US and give time for the discussions about the type in Italy, the Italian government is scrapping a plan to request its first four deliveries in STOVL format in 2014, and will ask for conventional aircraft instead.
"The first four aircraft we will take delivery of will be conventional JSFs, and we will see how the STOVL program advances," he said. "We have had informal contacts with the Americans about taking the conventional aircraft first."
Italy's original delivery plan envisioned an initial delivery of four STOVL aircraft in the Low Rate Initial Production 6 stage in 2014, with further deliveries of STOVL aircraft in 2015, 2016 and beyond. The first conventional JSF deliveries were envisaged in 2017. Switching those deliveries to 2014 means bringing forward the delivery of Italy's first conventional aircraft by three years.
An Italian defense source said that studies were now being made to reschedule the first STOVL deliveries. "But we need to see how discussions on the program proceed in the U.S.," he said.

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