October 13, 2008 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Italy has elected not to take part in the Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E) program of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.
The F-35 Lightning II
It is unsure as to why Italy
decided this but it may reflect pressure on its defense budget as it continues to buy other warplanes.
The F-35 is designed to replace aircraft of the United States and eight co-development partners, including Italy, as well as other potential buyers. It is the costliest U.S. arms acquisition program ever at a projected $299 billion.
Italian officials had been considering early purchases of two F-35A models for Initial OT&E. The officials had been weighing buying one as soon as fiscal 2009, with a second the following year.
Italy's decision to steer clear for now does not affect planned F-35 production quantities. Italy also remains a partner in the F-35 fighter aircraft program, and will continue as a full participant in F-35 flight test activities.
Britain and the Netherlands
are the only other F-35 co-development partners scheduled to participate in the initial operational test and evaluation program. The Netherlands plans to decide early next year whether to purchase two F-35s for this purpose. Data from this program is to be shared with all partners.
Two F-35s have entered flight test, two are in ground test and 17 are in various stages of assembly, including the first two production-model jets scheduled for delivery to the U.S. Air Force in 2010.
Besides the US and Italy, the F-35's development is also financed by Britain, the Netherlands, Turkey
, Canada, Australia, Denmark
F-35 competitors include Saab's Gripen, the Dassault Rafale, MiG-35 and Sukhoi Su-35, and the Eurofighter Typhoon, made by a consortium of British, German, Italian and Spanish companies.