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.