* Government wants to go ahead with purchase
* Cost of 90 planes seen topping 10 billion euros
By Steve Scherer and Roberto Landucci
ROME, May 30 Italian opposition parties and some
lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Party called on the
government on Thursday to abandon its plans to buy 90 Lockheed
Martin F-35 fighter jets.
Italy's total planned investment in the new Lightning II
Joint Strike fighters (JSF) exceeds 10 billion euros ($12.97
billion) even though it cut its order last year to 90 aircraft
from the 131 it had originally pencilled in to buy more than a
decade ago, a move it said would save 5 billion euros.
The opposition 5-Star Movement, the Left Ecology Liberty
(SEL) and 13 members of Prime Minister Enrico Letta's Democratic
Party (PD), one of two main components of the right-left
coalition, now want to scrap the order completely.
"We can easily do without the F-35," said Giulio Marcon, an
SEL lawmaker. "The government should make a responsible gesture
and use these resources to increase welfare spending and create
With Italy mired in recession and struggling with public
finances, the money saved by eliminating a single F-35 could be
used to build 387 day care centres or renovate 258 schools,
according to a motion signed by 158 parliamentarians in the
lower house Chamber of Deputies.
The PD said it wanted to cut spending on the programme
during the campaign for national elections last February, but
has since formed a government with Silvio Berlusconi's People of
Freedom (PDL) party, which supports the F-35.
The F-35 investment "should be revised, just as we all said
in the election campaign," Giuseppe Civati, one of 13 PD members
who signed the motion, told Reuters.
Civati, a frequent critic of his own party, accused the PD
and former prime minister Mario Monti's Civic Choice party of
reneging on campaign promises to cut spending on the jet.
Defence Minister Mario Mauro, a member of Monti's party,
said last week the month-old government wanted to go ahead with
the purchase, saying, "we need defence tools to guarantee
The deal includes a provision to give maintenance contracts
to state-controlled defence group Finmeccanica as
Italy's aerospace industry is a development and production
partner in the F-35 project and Italy has already invested about
2 billion euros in it.
However, the project is seven years behind schedule and 70
percent over initial cost estimates. Other countries have also
cut their provisional orders for the plane because of the
economic crisis that has shrunk defence budgets worldwide.