Italy prepared to cut major defense projects: minister

ROME Wed Mar 12, 2014 3:23pm EDT

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ROME (Reuters) - Italy will review its military needs and not hesitate to cut spending on unnecessary big projects, new defense minister Roberta Pinotti said on Wednesday, an announcement that will put the spotlight on its order for F-35 jets.

Italy last announced major defense cuts two years ago in response to the euro zone debt crisis, including a 30-percent reduction in orders of Lockheed Martin Corp's radar-evading F-35 fighter planes.

The government is now committed to buy 90 of the warplanes for about 10 billion euros ($14 billion), but there is broad political support for further cuts to the program.

State-owned defense company Finmeccanica is one of the subcontractors on the project and its Alenia unit will assemble the planes purchased by Italy, the Netherlands and Norway.

In her first appearance before parliament since being sworn in last month, Pinotti did not mention the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which has been dogged by technical problems. But she did not rule out further spending cuts.

"The government will not hesitate to review, reduce or rethink even large projects that are under way or being considered if economic or international situations show them to be inopportune," she said in testimony to the joint Senate and Chamber defense committees.

Before any spending decisions were made, the minister said she would lead a review of military needs, without saying how long it would take.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi presented a first round of tax cuts on Wednesday.

Saddled with a 2-trillion-euro debt mountain and straddling the European Union deficit limit, a windfall from defense spending cuts would give Renzi some breathing room for future reforms.

($1 = 0.7192 Euros)

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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