ROME – Italy’s populist government has given its clearest sign yet that it is firmly backing the F-35, following early pledges to scrap the program by the Five Star party, one of two parties making up Rome’s governing coalition.

“It is obvious we cannot deprive our Air Force of a great air capability that puts us ahead of many other countries,” said junior defense minister Angelo Tofalo during a speech in Italy’s parliament this week.

Tofalo is a member of the Five Star party, which formed a governing coalition in June this year with the League party after courting votes with its condemnation of the fighter program.

Last year, the party said it would cancel Italy’s plans to buy 131 aircraft.

Since taking office, the new government’s defense minister Elisabetta Trenta — who was tapped for office by the Five Star party — has said the government will consider slowing down orders, rather than cancelling the program.

Last month, a government source told Defense News Italy would buy six or seven aircraft in the next five years instead of the previous plan to buy around ten.

Tofolo’s statement took the positive appraisal of the F-35 one step further.

“We have talked about the F-35 for many years in Italy, often in a distorted way, whereas you often need to really know and evaluate information,” he said.

“The F-35 program is now moving, and is 20 years old, and contrary to what is often said it is an aircraft which surely has the benefit of optimum technology, maybe the best in the world at this time,” he added.

Italy has so far taken delivery of 10 F-35As and one F-35B, which were assembled at the country’s final assembly line in Cameri, northern Italy. The Italian aircraft based at Amendola air base have totalled 2,000 flying hours, and in a first for Europe the fledgeling fleet were given Initial Operating Capability status on Nov. 30.