Italy Considers Cutting its F-35B Purchase

Here’s more troubling news for the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. Italy is considering reducing the number of short take-off and vertical landing variants of the jet it buys, according to my old colleague (and hilarious guy) Tom Kington at Defense News:

The doubts over the [Italian] 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.

The following quote by Crosetto shows an Italy that is getting very gun-shy about the B-model in the wake of the U.K.’s move to swap its nearly 150 Bs for an unspecified number of F-35C carrier variants and reports that the U.S. is looking at dropping the B.

“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.”

If its air force drops its B-purchase, Italy would still try to buy 22 of the Bravos to replace Harrier jump jets flown off the aircraft carrier Cavour, according to the article.

“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.

Still, if this move occurs, it would reduce the F-35B purchase by almost 190 aircraft when combined with the British cut.  This will no doubt have an impact on the cost of the F-35B and strengthen the argument of those who want to scrap the plane and pour resources into the A and C models of the jet.

This being said, Teal Group aviation analyst and friend of Defense Tech, Richard Aboulafia, doesn’t see this as the beginning of the end for the B. At least, not yet.

“The B depends on the U.S. Marines at this point,” Aboulafia said in an e-mail today. “Losing a few score Italian Bs makes no difference.”

Here’s the Defense News article.

  • @Earlydawn

    Can the DoD hurry up and get this canceled so the A and C can succeed?

    • Kamiljon

      Exactly. The B is dead. Stick a fork in it and move on.

      • Mastro

        If the Marines dump the B - I guess that will kill the STOVLer?

        I doubt Spain and Italy can carry on alone-

  • Blight

    A few score JSF? How big was the Marine buy?

    • tee

      340 F-35B’s

      • blight

        Then a cut by UK/Italy of 190 is not simply “a few score”, it’s a bit more than half of the Marine buy. Something over a third of JSF-B’s…

        And 40 -> 22 is a bit less than a full score.

      • SMSgt Mac

        The Marines and Navy have in the past wisely deferred advertising how they plan to split their announced total of 680 JSFs. Wish DoD would never had announced the sub-totals. Many people have assumed the fifty-fifty ‘340/340’ number as a talking point. In January of this year Steve Trimble at Flight Global did the math on announced basing options and posited something nearer to 420 F-35Bs. The Federation of (Un)American ‘Scientists’ has gone higher and called the number at 480 total B models for the Marines. My guess is Trimble is closest. In any case, the Marines ARE the raison d’être for the STOVL, so Aboulafia finds an acorn in what matters to the survival of the F-35B: as long as it’s worth it to the Marines, STOVL goes forward.

        • @Joe_Schmoe12

          “as long as it’s worth it to the Marines, STOVL goes forward”

          No. As long as it is worth it to the American taxpayer does STOVL go forward.

          I sometimes worry about how people forget who actually pays for these toys and who the military works for.

        • blight

          Navy could cut their JSF buys and opt for Super Hornets as long as the Air Force keeps the line open.

  • Jacob

    Another thing….didn’t the Harrier have a much larger accident rate than other combat jets due to aerodynamic instability during vertical takeoffs and landings? If that’s true then why in the world would we want to put VTOL on a much more expensive plane?

    • STemplar

      Harriers did have a God awful accident rate. F35 wasnt going to have those issues pobably, because of the vastly better computer control fly by wire specs.

      The F35s two biggest hurdles are cost and mission. are costs going to keep rising and where will we base these to employ them effectively in missions.

    • jhm

      not everyone can procure mega carriers, which is too bad for them

  • William C.

    I know I am being a bit obsessive about this, but if we were going to dump the STOVL variant, we should have done it years ago. I simply hate the thought that all of that work on the F-35B was for nothing. If canceled the only thing we will have gotten from this whole endeavor is a less capable CTOL and CV aircraft.

    Perhaps we should separate the B model from rest of the JSF program and continue development, while putting the A and C models on the fast track.

    • @Earlydawn

      There are a lot of “should haves” encapsulated by the F-35. The size of the project may have diffused the expense of the stealth technology development, but I still think each service is receiving a compromise aircraft, and not one that matches its exact needs.

      I’d certainly agree that the B should be split off, but I think it should also be re-evaluated. The Corps is the last serious customer left. The more logical force structure for MAGTF air power is helicopters like the Zulu, perhaps supported by a larger presence on the supercarriers.

      • SMSgt Mac

        How do you arrive that each service is ‘receiving a compromise aircraft’? Answer with given the following:
        1. All aircraft designs involve tradeoffs - all are optimized compromises. Nature of the beast.
        2. Each variant is superior overall compared to the aircraft they replace: both as individual units and as part of a larger integrated force.
        3. Total force life-cycle costs (the only $ numbers that matter) will be much lower than the aircraft they replace.
        4. Each variant meets the NEED of the end-users.
        Be specific - no ‘hand waving’ please.

        • mike j

          2, 3, & 4 are yet to be proven, and look like wishful thinking.

          As for 1, yes, exactly. That’s why you don’t stack the deck against yourself by creating a mountain of non-negotiable requirements that need resolving, much less involving 3 services and foreign buyers to keep happy. It’s just flat out asking for trouble.

          How can you not see the hubris that’s involved in a project of this scope? I’m all for dreaming big, but be realistic.

          • SMSgt Mac

            And yet as to #1, all three services are more than happy with where the program is headed as to what the end product capabilities (if not the pace or price) will be. Numbers 2, 3 & 4 are re-verified by the Customer almost daily as the program progresses. When they are not satisfied, I’m certain the Customer will let the contractors know.
            The F-35 design is IMHO a systems engineering tour de force. Enabled by the services willing to work with each other along with a novel functional-based requirements and capabilities-catalogue approach that focuses the effort on what the product must do for total dollars spent vs. how it will do it. This enabled the design to mature with a surprisingly small number of traditional requirements. While I’ve been less than awed with much of the program execution to-date (‘uneven’ is the best term), given the size and complexity of the effort, I suppose it should be expected. Given the system performance to date, I am scary-confident of the successful fielding of all three variants…. if the know-nothings can be kept out of the way.

          • mike j

            The word for an otherwise good idea that you can’t execute is “failure.” You could call the execution on this program uneven only if the clock wasn’t running down on all the airframes it’s meant to replace. It is years behind and looking like a budget buster with our present financial mess.

            There are going to be critics and nitpickers on any project, and especially something this big. The best defense against them is not letting them get a foot in the door to begin with, by running the program right. As for the “systems engineering tour de force”, sure, and history is littered with remarkable technological achievements that got strangled or nearly so by their own umbilical cord or politics or what-have-you .

            You are passed the point where you can talk this thing right, it needs to show some positive progress, and soon.

          • SMSgt Mac

            Heh. Three variants flying. 2 of the 3 now cranking sorties and test points ahead of current plan. Block 1 S/W loaded and flying and production rates increasing. I’d call that progress. The key is getting A/C numbers out there so single problems have less of an impact. I can state unequivocally that the majority of the ‘delays’ to date have been driven at their very root by factors external to the capability of LM et al to develop and field the aircraft. I can also state unequivocally that the estimated unit cost increases, a stupid metric as it is, is still driven more by Customer estimating methods (as bogus as their weight growth estimation standard) and contract changes than anything else. But if it is easier to believe that all the services and nations supporting this effort are clueless, then whatever floats your boat. The fact that airframes are wearing out faster than expected due to the GWOT ops tempo and the need is more urgent can hardly be blamed on the F-35 program. Bait for the more gullible: Exactly how long does anyone on this thread think it should take to field a modern weapon system that will do the work of three (+) and still be front-line viable for the next 30-40 years?

          • mike j

            I’m not seeing the logic here: “The fact that airframes are wearing out faster than expected due to the GWOT ops tempo and the need is more urgent can hardly be blamed on the F-35 program.”

            Well, shoot… the bad guys didn’t wait for us to get new airframes deployed. Bummer. Actually, I think the F-35 program may directly to blame for our not having new planes. Either that, or it’s a major symptom of the disease.

            And you claim this isn’t your “first rodeo”, what about the head honchos at LockMart? I’ll assume that you’re correct and this is mostly the customer’s fault. So the US gov’t rolls up one day, with all that history of screwed up procurement, and says “Have we got a deal for you! Biggest military program ever! Thousands of units! Three services! Foreign customers! Decades of sales!”

            If I’m the contractor, I’d listen politely and tell them “Well, sounds neat, but our neck will be sticking out a parsec if something goes wrong. No offense, USG, but stuff always seems to go wrong with you. Got anything less ambitious?” - I don’t hear about contractors behaving this way very often. Just sayin’.

          • SMSgt Mac

            The wear and tear on existing assets was a side issue that YOU brought up. The only way the F-35 can be blamed for not having ‘new’ planes is if the dollars were spent on new copies of old and soon to be obsolescent designs. At some time you have to recapitalize the force and the future isn’t any cheaper if the need is there (those responsible say it is).
            Note I did not use the word ‘fault’ earlier. That is your POV. I specifically used ‘drivers’ as a synonym for ‘cause’- good, bad, indifferent. If you are asserting there is ‘fault’ to be laid please be precise as to what the problem is and who’s ‘fault’ it is. I would ‘blame’ the JSF program itself for exactly one year of programmatic delay at the start of the program. This would be for the overly optimistic idea that the program could be manned and stood up one year faster than traditional efforts without changing any of the personnel processes. (continued next comment)

          • SMSgt Mac

            Continued from earlier)
            Aside from the funding hissy-fit Congress threw over billing errors, the remainders of the ‘delays’ are due to conscious decisions by the government/program to reduce programmatic risk and improve likelihood of success. Cost increases to-date can be largely attributed to the stretching of the development program as risk reduction, Customer directed add-ons and the reality of having to pursue an alternate engine program for political purposes. That acquisition cost increases are attributable to stretching the SDD phase is validated by the unit production costs and trends that are running well BELOW the estimated cost line… and almost exactly as the program predicted.

          • SMSgt Mac

            BTW: A short definition of ‘Hybris’ is the state of being arrogant in one’s own ignorance. As the F-35 has been one of the things on my ‘to do’ list since 2002, and this is not my first rodeo by any standard, I am rather well-informed in my…confidence.

          • Ray A.

            I agree with SMSGT MAC over wiliam “C”. I actually work on this jet from day one at pax. I see A LOT! I work on every system and was personally involved with BLK 1 upgrades as far as the first STOVL flight, I authorize safe for flight in the Quality assurance dept. The jet is a great jet and when you have on as technically superior to anything that has been developed to date…you will have issues. We havea great team around us and get any problems rectified in a efficient and timely manner! In a program of this magnitude you will have “rock throwers”…let them throw! In the long term…the Pro’s/benefits of this jet far out weigh the negatives!

        • @Earlydawn

          I wasn’t saying that. I was expanding on William’s train of thought. Re-read my post.

          • @Earlydawn

            Nevermind, got my posts confused. I’ll come back to this tomorrow.

  • Michael

    Fiscal pressures may come with a heavy hand for the B model.

  • DomS

    Agree with William C - I mean there must have been numerous design compromises on A and C to enable commonality with the STOVL design. Removing the B will leave the airforce and navy with an unnecessarily compromised aircraft as the backbone of its TO&E for the next several decades. Fail.

    • @Earlydawn

      By that logic, aren’t the A and C compromised, regardless? If you buy into that logic, we’re making ~1,200+ bad aircraft for the sake of ~400 aircraft. Hundreds of those aircraft are now not going to be purchased.

      The A and C have plenty of technology evolutions for a stealth strike aircraft. The JSF may be built as a heavy BVR fighter, but it’s still a perfectly fine aircraft without the B variant. It makes absolutely no sense to start a new project.

  • Tony C

    The F-35B is the most complicated and most expensive variant. The problem with the F-35
    is it came at a time when defense budgets are being sashed around the globe. There
    is a need for teh F-35B, but no money to develop it. Sounds like the Italian’s will be between the rock and a hard place with their carrier capabilities. The USMC can relie on the US Navy large deck carriers for flying teh F-35C, the Italian Navy has no such capability.

  • Tamas Feher

    NUM-550 Cavour is impossible for the F-18 fighter-bomber family, even after a rebuild. The hull short and simply not wide enough, so there is no underdeck hangar space and the twinjet Hornet is not a small-sized aircraft to begin with. Super Hornet is almost as big as an F-15 Eagle!

    The swedish however, are ready to offer Italy their petite JAS-39M Sea Gripen variant, powered by a single EJ-200(230) turbojet engine, adapted from the Eurofighter.

    (Ordinary SAAB Gripen-A/B/C/D/NG variants use the american made F-404/414 engine, but the swedish designed the Gripen fuselage to accept an alternative Eurojet powerplant from the start, in case America decides to embargo exports again, as happened previously with the hindustani J-37 Viggen deal in the 1970s.)

    Because Italy is a big operator of the canard-delta Eurofighter warplane, the Eurojet-powered, canard-delta Sea Gripen would offer a great commodity of aerodynamic configuration and powerplant components in italian service. Eurofighter = Eurocanard Senior, Gripen = Eurocanard junior!

    This is very useful, because one must note that the big Eurofighter is impossible to navalize. The EFA-2000 fuselage was designed to verbosely exclude any possibility of naval use, after the french became angry and left the common European canard-fighter project in late 1982, to develop their own shipdeck-capable Rafale canard fighterplane. (Germany and Britain foolishly insisted at that time, that the Eurofighter will never need a costly reinforced airframe for ship-borne service, because the Harrier does everything…)

    Luckily “Eurocanard Junior” Gripen is both carrier adaptable and a very economical small plane, about the size of an A-4 Skyhawk, but with supersonic speed. It does not need folding wings to fit underdeck hangars. The basic Gripen is already short roll landing configuration. When empty (no weapons, minimum fuel) it can land and stop without arresting wires or any other external help in just 320 meters (Gripen-A variant landed on the USS Nimitz in a simulator in 1994).

    Sea Gripen is easy to develop, because the normal Gripen-A/B/C/D land-based variants are already designed and certified for high sink rate “no-flare” landings. This is the swedish defence doctrine, Gripen planes fly from 9×600 meter cordoned-off autobahn sections in wartime, so the russians bomb airbases in vain and the swedish can still fight back!

    Gripen is also affordable, as it was developed on low budget, arrived on time and never exceeded the projected cost. Running cost is also low, the plane is easy to service by 1 officer + 5 people, turbojet and radar highly reliable. The next Gripen-E/F variant and the Sea Gripen will have the italian Selex-Galileo fully AESA swashplate radar installed.

    The 244 meter long Cavour carrier ship can be adapted to operate the Sea Gripen if the flight deck is lenghtened to at least 215 meters (currently it is only 188 meters long). Sky-jump ramp and arrestor wires are enough, as the Sea Gripen does not demand use of steam catapults. (Although if there is catapult-assisted launch available, the payload and fuel carried on a Sea Gripen can be extended by 33-35%.)

    Gripen has Sidewinder, ASRAAM, AMRAAM, Meteor, Taurus land attack cruise missile and Bofors RBS-15 anti-ship missile, as well as GPS-guided and laser bombs, plus Maverick anti-tank missiles and a 27mm Mauser autocannon.

    Gripen is almost a stealth plane, because it is so small and has 90% plastic-composite non-reflective airframe build. The F-16 block 40 cannot see it on radar beyond 5km and it cannot be seen with the naked eye beyond 5km, due to small size and grey paintjob.

    This was proven in Sardinia excercises, when the hungarians flew Gripens versus US Vipers. The F-16 pilots never noticed the Gripen wingman and so they got themselves killed by Sidewinder, while chasing the Gripen lead pilot…

    All in all, Sea Gripen is affordable and reasonably quickly available for Italy, so the cavour can be saved from a helicopter-only fate after Harriers wear out circa 2016-2017. The AWACS capability can be provided by SAAB Erieye AESA planes, which are designed to datalink with Gripen fighter jets. On the other hand, Gripens formations themselves possess very in-flight advanced datalink capabilities, better than Link-16 (but Link-16 is also available). The Gripen cockpit is highly ergonomical, with three large sized displays having 2x resolution of the F-16 block 50.

    • elgatoso

      Are you a salesman from Saab???Nobody is interested in the Gripen,

      • guest

        That would be wrong. Many are buying Saab.

    • elgatoso

      The F-16 pilots never noticed the Gripen wingman and so they got themselves killed by Sidewinder, while chasing the Gripen lead pilot
      You have some link about that or you just made it up???

    • Rick

      “The 244 meter long Cavour carrier ship can be adapted to operate the Sea Gripen if the flight deck is lenghtened to at least 215 meters (currently it is only 188 meters long).”

      As far as I am reading it the NUM-550 Cavour has a flight deck of 232.6 meters, so according to your/SAABs assumptions it could be embarked tomorrow on that carrier…

      Maybe you were thinking of the old Garibaldi light carrier?

  • William C.

    I don’t know where everybody gets the idea that a Sea Gripen would be as simple as slapping on a tailhook to the Gripen, it takes a lot of work to navalize an aircraft.

    Supposedly the UK took a look at a navalized Typhoon variant, but I doubt they would go with that due to cost reasons.

    The Gripen NG is a good little aircraft, but some of you seem to have drank a bit too much of the Kool-Aid Saab was serving.