WASHINGTON, July 10 Lockheed Martin Corp
and the Italian military this week scrapped plans for a public
ceremony marking the opening of an assembly plant for the F-35
Joint Strike Fighter after bitter debate about the warplanes in
Orlando Carvalho, head of Lockheed's aeronautics business,
and Air Force Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan, who runs
the F-35 program for the Pentagon, had planned to attend the
ceremony, which was scheduled for July 18, along with Italian
Lockheed spokesman Joe LaMarca said the ceremony was
cancelled at the request of the Italian defense ministry, but
workers were continuing to assemble the first F-35 at the plant
"At the request of the Italian Ministry of Defense, the July
18 public ceremony recognizing the start of F-35 assembly
operations at the Final Assembly and Checkout (FACO) facility in
Cameri has been cancelled," LaMarca said. He gave no
Lockheed and its suppliers are building three models of the
new warplane for the U.S. military and eight international
partners: Britain, Canada, Australia, Italy, Turkey, Denmark,
Norway and the Netherlands. Japan and Israel have also placed
orders for the radar-evading single-engine jet.
The U.S. military and its allies plan to buy over 3,000 of
the jets in coming decades to replace over a dozen warplanes now
in use around the world. The Pentagon has said it expects to
spend $392 billion to buy 2,443 jets in coming years, making the
F-35 its biggest weapons program.
Several of the partner countries, including Canada and
Denmark, are revisiting their planned purchases after a series
of cost overruns and other issues.
Italy's ruling coalition averted a split over a motion to
scrap its purchase of 90 F-35 jets last month by agreeing to
seek parliament's approval before going ahead with further
spending on the program. An opposition motion in favor of
abandoning the F-35 was defeated.
Italy plans to spend 11.8 billion euros ($15.43 billion) on
the jets over 45 years, starting in 2015.
The deal includes maintenance contracts for state-controlled
defense group Finmeccanica, as Italy's aerospace
industry is a development partner in the F-35 project and Italy
has already invested about 2 billion euros in it.
Last year, Italy cut its F-35 order to 90 warplanes from the
131 it had originally agreed to buy, a move it said would save 5
billion euros as it sought to reduce defense spending to shore
up its accounts during the economic slump.