“Bipartisan” concurrence on the JSF in Italy

translation: L. Bionda

The first memorandum was signed in December 1998, during D’Alema’s government; the second one followed in June 2002, with Berlusconi at the head of the government; the third one was signed in February 2007 by Lorenzo Forcieri, Deputy Minister of Defense during Prodi’s government, and included further engagements regarding the antimissile shield imposed by the United States.
These are the three agreements signed by Italy as partner in the project for the development of the new strike fighter plane “F-35 Lighting II (Joint Strike Fighter)”. Italy – whose intention is to replace by 2015 the Harrier, AMX and Tornado fighter jets used by the Italian Air Force – has already spent 638,000,000 USD in the first step of the project development (which is expected to cost more than one billion dollars), but we have to add other 900 million dollars more for the following step of implementation and production of the aircraft.
At the beginning a very positive spin-off on our economy was expected, with a workforce of ten thousand people employed for almost fifty years, as a large group of Italian companies (lead by Alenia and Fiat Avio) takes part to the project with subcontracts for designing and constructing the fighters’ wings.
According to the last estimate, howewer, no more than a thousand people would be employed, two hundred of them directly and the others in the allied industries, for ten years; these are the “expected” results, since they will come true only with the assemblage of the aircrafts, to be completed in a military base near Cameri, in the province of Novara (North-Western Italy), and with the subsequent purchase of 131 strike fighters, as planned, for an economic pledge of 11 billions USD approximately (and with a cost of 84 million USD each, if the estimate will be confirmed, but who knows …).
Small things, we could say, if compared with the 2,500 strike fighters that the United States and the United Kingdom have planned to purchase, and with the 4,500 strike fighters that the Lockheed Martin company, leader of the American companies’ group that represents the primary contractor, would like to produce.
But the nearly two billion dollars spent in the JSF project are public funds, and the deals signed by the Italian companies, for less than a billion dollars, will produce private profits; however, everything will become reality only when the government effectively acquires the aircraft.
Moreover, the JSF plan is in direct competition with the Eurofighter “Typhoon”, the strike fighter that Italy is building with the United Kingdom, Germany, and Spain; Italy would purchase 121 of these planes (at 58 million euros each, for a total spending of almost 7 billion euros ).
According to some experts, the choice of JSF interferes with the evolution of the European defense strategies and distracts resources away from the Eurofighter project. Others point at a strategic industrial dependence, arising from the United States’ unwillingness to share technology and information in order to protect their technological superiority in that field.
The discussion in our Parliament and on the media regarding the JSF project had good impact in Norway, Denmark and Holland only, while in Italy it was almost ignored.
According to the website “Dedefensa”, citing an anonymous Italian official linked with our former Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, the Italian government was very much pressed by Washington to go on with the JSF project.
The Italian official declared: “We couldn’t do anything, there has been such a pressure, such a great and continuous pressure that totally absorbed our political system. We are captives, literally. This goes beyond a common situation of political ‘influence’. This situation lies deep into the psychology and the very essence of our political system”.
Decades of subjection not caused by weakness and declining power, but by “the psychology and the very essence of our political system”. A habit to subsiervience so rooted that we don’t even think of shaking it off, because that woul mean rethinking our strategy and geopolitics. And our politicians and lawmakers often don’t even know that such issues exist.

Italian version

F-35 Lightning II (Joint Strike Fighter)

Trattasi di un cacciabombardiere supersonico multiruolo di 5° generazione ad alto contenuto tecnologico, contraddistinto da bassa osservabilità radar-termica-acustica-visiva (stealthness). Verrà prodotto in tre versioni ad alta comunanza di componenti:
F-35A, versione per le piste convenzionali;
F-35B, versione a decollo corto ed atterraggio verticale;
F-35C, per decolli a catapulta ed atterraggi col gancio sulle grandi portaerei della US Navy.
Il programma si articola in quattro fasi:
System Development and Demonstration (SDD), della durata di dieci anni, con completamento entro il 2012, durante i quali verrà portato avanti sia lo sviluppo dei sistemi del velivolo che i relativi test, condotti tramite 19 esemplari già in linea di volo od in fase di produzione;
Production, Sustainment and Follow-on Development (PSFD) in cui vengono delineate le partecipazioni industriali, l’impegno economico ed i requisiti dei singoli partner del progetto complessivo;
Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP), con inizio nel 2009 e conclusione indicativamente nel 2015, in cui avverrà una produzione a basso ritmo (poco più di venti velivoli al mese);
Full Rate Production (FRIP), cioé la produzione a pieno regime.
Il programma trae beneficio da una serie di studi condotti negli Stati Uniti negli anni ’80 e ’90 del secolo scorso, nell’ambito del Joint Advanced Strike Technology riguardo nuove tecnologie in grado di essere applicate su un futuro aereo d’attacco comune a US Air Force, US Navy e US Marines. Nel 1997 fu definito Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) il requisito per un velivolo in grado di soddisfare tale scopo e due consorzi concorrenti guidati da Lockheed Martin e Boeing vinsero la gara per la definizione e realizzazione del primo prototipo, che si concretizzò nel 2000.
Venne quindi selezionato il prototipo della statunitense Lockheed Martin, con quartier generale a Bethesda, Maryland e fatturato di 42 miliardi di dollari nel 2007 (che è il primary contractor, affiancata da Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems, Pratt & Whitney, General Electric e Rolls Royce quali principali subcontractors) come vincitore della competizione ed il gruppo ottenne un contratto da 19 miliardi di dollari per lo sviluppo e la produzione del JSF. BAE System è invece capo commessa per le due nuove portaerei della Royal Navy sulle quali opereranno i 138 F-35B britannici.
Il programma ha assunto una significativa dimensione internazionale con la firma di un accordo di cooperazione fra Stati Uniti, Gran Bretagna, Italia, Olanda, Turchia, Canada, Australia, Danimarca e Norvegia avvenuta nel 2002, che ha fatto del JSF il più grande programma aeronautico internazionale dell’era moderna.
Il 15 dicembre 2006 ha avuto luogo il primo volo di un F-35A, mentre l’F-35B ha fatto il suo esordio lo scorso 10 giugno sui cieli del Texas, guidato dall’ex pilota RAF Graham Tomlinson, compiendo la prima delle 5.000 uscite previste nei prossimi cinque anni.
All’inizio del 2007, le nove nazioni partner hanno firmato – dopo numerose discussioni sulle partecipazioni industriali ed i trasferimenti di tecnologia – l’accordo di prosecuzione per la fase successiva di PSFD.
L’F-35B sarà la prima delle tre varianti del Lightning II a ottenere l’Ioc (Initial operational capability), con l’entrata in servizio, in dotazione ai Marines, nel 2012. La capacità operativa iniziale verrà poi raggiunta dagli F-35A e, nel 2014, dagli F-35C.