* 5-Star Movement wants jet purchase eliminated
* Political momentum against jet is building
* Government needed to make decision on fighter
By Steve Scherer
ROME, April 9 Italy's 5-Star Movement, led by
comic Beppe Grillo, wants to scrap the country's planned
purchase of 90 Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets
and use the savings to help boost the struggling economy, a
lawmaker told Reuters on Tuesday.
Italy has been unable to seat a government since the
February national election that left no single force with a
working majority in parliament, but 5-Star wants to form
parliamentary committees so laws can be made without one.
"We plan on presenting soon a motion in parliament to
totally abandon the F-35 programme," Alessandro Di Battista, a
5-Star deputy in the lower house, told Reuters.
Eliminating the purchase of the fighter jets would save
Italy a total of an estimated 10 billion euros ($13 billion)but
it would leave the Air Force and the country's new aircraft
carrier with an outdated fighter fleet.
Even though support for the purchase of the fighter, built
by Lockheed Martin Corp of the United States is
dwindling, any decision to drop or curtail the procurement is
not likely to be taken before a government is formed.
The troubled F-35 is seven years behind schedule and 70
percent over early cost estimates, and orders for the super
technological new jet have been cut during an economic crisis
that has shrunk defence budgets worldwide.
Last year, Italy cut its F-35 order to 90 warplanes from the
131 it had agreed to buy more than a decade ago, a move it said
would save 5 billion euros. The package also includes
maintenance work for Italy's state controlled defence technology
The 5-Star Movement does not have enough votes in parliament
to shoot down the jet purchases on its own, but political
momentum against the Joint Strike Fighter is building.
The Left Ecology Liberty (SEL) party has already presented a
motion to parliament against the fighter-jet purchase, and the
Democratic Party (PD) has said it is in favour of further
"Even in Washington they know the F-35 is a fighter that
cannot fight, but in Italy we're still trying to buy it," Nichi
Vendola, head of SEL, told Reuters, referring to the technical
problems that have dogged the jet.
Vendola said the money saved should be used to improve
schools, the nation's aqueducts and to increasing public
day-care programmes for children.
The PD has already said the F-35 purchases should be
"rethought," Lapo Pistelli, the party's top foreign affairs
advisor, told Reuters. "But this is a decision that must be
taken by a government with full powers."
On Wednesday, the 5-Star Movement will ask parliament to
back the immediate withdrawal of Italian troops serving under
the umbrella of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in
Afghanistan, Di Battista also said.
"It's an unacceptable, shameful war," he said.
Currently, Italy's more than 4,000 troops are to be drawn
down by 25 percent this year, with the rest coming home by the
end of next year, and it costs Italy about 750 million euros per
Parliament must approve continued funding for the mission
later this year.
Though the 5-Star does not want Italy to withdrawal from
NATO, Di Battista said: "Any historic agreement can be
discussed. If something is unjust, then we need to rethink it."
($1 = 0.7658 euros)
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Michael Roddy)