Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has suggested Italy would cut its planned purchase of 90 Joint Strike Fighters. (Agence France-Presse)
ROME — Italy’s planned purchase of 90 Joint Strike Fighters (JSFs) was thrown further into doubt on March 19 as members of the Italian parliament signed off a report calling for “significant” cuts to the program and senior government officials ordered a new defense white paper to reassess Italy’s military strategy by year end.
The developments came three days after new Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi suggested Italy would cut its purchase of JSFs as the Italian government struggles to bring down state spending.
The critical report was drawn up by members of the center-left Democratic Party to which Renzi belongs who also sit on the defense commission of the lower house of parliament.
The document cannot yet be considered government, or even party policy. “It needs to be voted on by the commission, although I believe it will be since the Democratic Party is in the majority,” said Gian Piero Scanu, a commission member and one of the authors of the report. “Then it will be voted on in parliament itself,” he added.
The document criticizes Italy’s allegedly poor workshare on the JSF program, claims that the jobs generated by Italy’s JSF assembly line are insufficient and states that Italy’s lack of access to sensitive program data will lead to dependence on the US.
Italy’s planned 12 billion euro purchase of 90 aircraft should be “significantly cut,” while ongoing orders should be halted until technical hitches are cleared up, the report adds.
While Italy has planned spending billions on the Joint Strike Fighter, it has scaled back its purchases of the Eurofighter. The report argues that instead Italy should be aiming to buy the ground attack version of the Eurofighter, which it claims would compete on level terms with the JSF, adding that the European program guarantees an industrial return equal to outlay.
The document calls for more Euro-centric procurement and military policy in general and criticizes the Italian Army’s digitalization program for pushing the Italian military beyond the point where it is able to cooperate with fellow EU and NATO forces. The 20 billion euro program, the document states, should be put on hold until interaction is guaranteed.
The report also points out that a 2012 law shifted control over procurement from the military to parliament despite “strong resistance” and that Italy should now set up a committee, along the lines of the US GAO, to monitor the “closed circuit” between the defense industry and the military.
Work on the document started last year after parliament opted in June to halt JSF orders until a full review of the program was undertaken.
Scanu noted that the report recommends the block should now remain in place until the JSF’s technical hitches are ironed out.
By contrast, Italy’s president, Giorgio Napolitano, last year appeared to oppose parliamentary control over procurement, when he warned that key decisions should be remain in the hands of the executive branch of government.
On March 19, the day the Democratic Party report was released, Napolitano called a meeting of Italy’s Supreme Defense Council, which brought together senior military officials, ministers and prime minister Renzi.
While the JSF program was reportedly not discussed, the council called for the drawing up of a new defense White Paper by the end of the year “to redefine the strategic point of reference for the armed forces,” a statement released after the council meeting said.
Tellingly, the statement said the White Paper would be overseen by a group of experts managed by the ministry of defense, while work on the paper would only see “the involvement of relevant parliamentary commissions.”
Asked if the White Paper would overshadow and supplant the defense commission document on future procurement, Scanu disagreed. “It will run in parallel, but parliament is now sovereign,” he said.
Whoever wins out, prime minister Renzi has already had his say, claiming he would like see the JSF program cut below 90 aircraft, following its earlier cut from 131 aircraft.
“We will continue with our international programs, we will continue with a strong air force, but that program will be revised,” Renzi told an Italian TV channel on March 16 when asked about Italy’s current plan to buy 90 F-35s.