The real F-35 scandal: Italy

(To Andrea Cucco)

"A very expensive project. A useless machine. A plane with a thousand problems. "The attacks on the aircraft that will form the backbone of our Air Force (and of our aircraft aviation ...) for the next few decades have been numerous and now the F-35 is an easy target. Because? As "popular". For all those who want to denigrate a technological choice made at the time by insiders (end users, the Armed Forces) was free to do so, lightly and without competence. The result is today's: "F35" is widely synonymous with "useless waste".

Those used to comment or get an idea based on a title or half a photo can stop reading now, a few lines will already have been an unusual effort. The others, like those who followed this newspaper when it told counter-current (sometimes solitary) uncomfortable truths about conflicts, about rulers up to the most sensational manipulations of information, continue ... there are new aspects to understand.

The birth of the F-35

The US program Joint Strike Fighter - we are in the early nineties (25 years ago!) - was aimed at finding an aircraft that, with minimal differences in cost, could meet the needs of aeronautics, marine and marines. The winner of the competition was the prototype X-35 (photo below) of Lockheed Martin, the aircraft destined to become today's F-35 Lightning II.

Our country has not just bought the only fifth-generation aircraft available today: it participated in the development, with an investment of 1 billion dollars, and obtained (before the cut to the purchase ...) a position of absolute privilege with the construction in Cameri of FACO, the only assembly line in Europe.

Today, after having been given a first epochal blow on the genitals in 2012, we still debate on cuts and alleged "savings"?

The numerous maneuvers in the development of the plane

There have been and - unlike the countries of the fourth world - have been and are highlighted and addressed by the Pentagon or by US government agencies, not just by the press.

We also remember that, while we are still discussing a fifth generation aircraft, the US and its global competitors are already working on the next two ...

The acquisition of real technologies and capabilities 20-30 years ahead cannot be precisely planned on a sheet of paper without taking into account inconveniences, problems and delays. At least among primates with opposable thumbs ... This is net of the awareness that Lockheed Martin, the reference manufacturer, is certainly not a non-profit organization!

Everyone is free to have their own opinion on the aircraft, provided that the information available is complete. Since, according to the writer, this picture has never been clearly provided to the citizens of our beloved country, we interviewed the former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Pasquale Preziosa. Accomplice a moment of relaxation in the quiet company of the grandchildren, the general has provided with the already proverbial sincereness some data that we lacked ...

General Precious, what happened with the cutting of the 2012 to the quota of F-35?

Our convenience would have been not to go below one hundred aircraft: we would have, as it was, lost a share of 30% in the production of wingbars of the aircraft.

What was the value of every wing box and how many would we have to produce?

The value was around 10 million each. We should have produced over1280, if I remember correctly. We lost 400.

So getting off at 90 made us lose ...

Let's talk, with the penalties, of the beauty of 4-5 billion! This happens when the analyzes target the System-government (not the "Country System", nda).

A reduction was "politically" required, even if the government was then "technical" (Monti Government, nda).

What would have been the greatest convenience? Contract the purchase to 101 F-35, avoiding to lose the industry and ultimately Italy that mountain of money.

Someone claims that the program represented a rip off for our country ...

The reality is the opposite: the Americans had ONLY allowed Italy to produce the wingbars and to assemble the aircraft outside the United States! A technological advantage evident to those entering the Camaro FACO.

If we compare the sum of the investments in the program (about a billion), the cost of airplanes and the 12-13 billion of industrial return, the "Sistema Paese Italia" aircraft were supplied almost free!

We were the country elected by the United States in Europe to have the maximum advantage. Each of us can then make their own calculations to reduce this privilege ... In Italy we managed to compromise a unique opportunity. The cut did not involve any savings, it will cost billions: those compromised with the loss of production.

Can things change?

In Italy, those who sit on the "papal throne" always repeat the same things, as if there were only Ustica and the F-35 ... I do not expect great changes.

At the time did not anyone fight to avoid cutting?

The letters sent advised against all the reduction under 100 quota ... Also because we are replacing Two hundred and forty aircraft - between Tornado (photo) and AMX - with, now, 90!

Operationally I do not know if the reduction will be sustainable: already the original number of 131 F-35 was just enough. But whoever is called to perform operational tasks is never the same who decides to reduce.

If we are called to support a task will we be able to fulfill it in these conditions?

Italy is today one of the few countries to possess 5 technologya generation to enter a future that has been outlined. We do not decide the future, we are "followers", the United States, Russia and China establish it. These protagonists are beyond the fourth generation, some even beyond the fifth. Italy, with few other European countries, was ahead of this trend. I had hair when there was already talk of F-35 ... today it's a reality.

How many years will the F-35 serve?

We are talking at least for the next twenty years. Period in which an adequate mitigation of the risk can not be provided by fourth generation aircraft.

In international politics we need firm points: I have made a decision and I keep it. Compliance with commitments represents the reliability of a country. If, every time, a signed contract is called into question, the credibility of the contractors is lost.

If today we renegotiate the share of F-35 to return to the 101 quota that would not have affected the industrial production originally assigned ... would they send us to that country?

It should be renegotiated ... In a world that is moving forward anyway, Italy, given its low reliability, a country of long discussions, will not have an easy life. Maintenance was assigned to England: a patient nation that had suffered the failure of FACO's assignment to Italy.

In the past, thanks to the commissions of the Chamber and the Senate, we set the Final Assembly and Check Out as a condition for the purchase of the F-35: a technological paradise for those who have the opportunity to visit it. If such excellences are not appreciated, after being requested, the Americans make it a reason ...

The United States assign FACO to Italy and what do we do? We still discuss whether to take the F-35, if not take it or in what number? !!!

Recall that the Americans do not care about a few dozen aircraft. They will buy thousands of them. We have lost an opportunity!

Someone then speaks of "sovereignty" ... But why does the Eurofighter give us sovereignty? It is shared in Europe (and England is out today ...). Many parts are made in the UK, has a "security of supply" been made? When we speak of "sovereignty" or make sure we can conceive and implement all the technology present in an industrial field, otherwise it does not exist.

An example?

Motor technology. Italy makes the cells of the aircraft but we do not design and realize engines.

The avionics? We are mostly systems "integrators", not so much producers.

So "sovereignty" of what ...? If the Rolls Royce gives us no more spare parts for the 339 Viper (Photo), the planes remain on the ground!

Someone underlines the dependence of US comparisons with the F-35 ...

We are in NATO. There is no operation that is carried out without the United States or the consent of others. We are not able to conduct operations independently, without an older brother.

With the future 150.000 men ... How many operations? The half? Divided over three turns ... what can we do without the Alliance? It is NATO that guarantees our security.

The Air Force, with half of the aircraft in line today, will not be oversized as an organic?

Aeronautics without means is of little use. Even with the F-35, without the AMX, it will need a range of low-intensity conflict aircraft. The Eurofighter will not serve.

We need an analysis and a strategic plan in relation to the international scenario. The politician will then evaluate. However - I repeat - once the decision has been taken, we must keep our word.

Another white paper?

Even with an "important" left majority and with a supreme defense council that seemed to have shared everything ... it remained "white".

For years they have been beating us with the white paper ... (v.articoloWithout being able to approve it!

Probably there was no conviction. It was an expression of a part of the majority that wanted to go over the top.

I remember when there was doubt whether the president of the board had signed or not the text ... When one of the PD does not countersign an initiative of another of the PD that means? Which is not shared! Or that it was an internal struggle between party currents ...

If you really want, a white paper is written in three months and in other three it is approved ...

In reality, funds were needed - and needed - for the defense budget. You can not write a white paper but implement it. Think of the reduction made by Minister Di Paola, which will bring the number of armed forces to 150.000 from 190.000. He did so during the single year of technical government.

The white paper? For three years a mockery.

After a year spent inviting anyone - including children - to write down what our defense should have been ...

A mockery. Today the urgency is the budget! We have a few platforms in all the Armed Forces. The cost of the Personnel is incompressible immediately, it needs time to reduce. Investments and Exercise can be cut. The latter is the one that suffers most today.


In Germany, the chief of staff indicated to the Germans that F-35 will be acquired as fifth generation aircraft and then moved to the sixth.

Because we did not go from the Eurofighter (Photo) current - fourth generation - to fifth generation Eurofighter? Because the Eurofighter cost A TOMBOLA, almost two and a half times a F-35 !!! After that experience, Europe actually stopped at the fourth generation and there was not enough money left to develop the fifth.

Italy, Holland and England have invested in the American project to obtain the F-35. The proposal was "technical" but at the time it was completed by politics ... After twenty years we can not continue to discuss cuts.

Today the F-35 is the aircraft necessary for the new scenarios. I want to see who has the courage to tell a hospital's primary type of scalpel to use for a given operation! Can it be an administrative one to decide? The "technician" (the Aeronautica Militare) has already expressed himself by giving his own assessment to parliament and government. The other political "superstructures" have only created damage.

The first reduction from 131 to 90 airplanes has already produced 4-5 billions of damages! If certain people were called to answer for losses to the "Italian System", I believe that decisions would be taken more wisely. The operational need for the first cut to the F-35s was not there: 130 aircraft were THE MINIMUM necessary to replace 240.

(photo: Air Force / US Air Force / Defense / web / Bundeswehr)