ROME (Reuters) - Italy’s review of its military needs and possible cuts to its order for 90 Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets will be decided by the end of the year, Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti said on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who announced 10 billion euros (8.4 billion pounds) in income-tax cuts last week, said on Sunday the radar-evading fighter planes order would be “revised” as he seeks to reduce public spending.
On Tuesday, Pinotti said that before a decision on the plane orders was made, she would draw up a “white paper” that prioritises defence requirements.
“We can finish by December,” Pinotti said in testimony to parliament.
The government is now committed to buy 90 of the warplanes for a total of 12 billion euros, but there is broad political support for further cuts to the programme, which almost two-thirds of Italians deem unnecessary, a recent poll showed.
Italy is trying to keep the budget deficit within the European Union’s limit of 3 percent of output and reduce debt while lowering taxes as Renzi seeks to spur consumer spending and create jobs in the chronically sluggish economy.
But Italy is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation with an ageing fleet of fighter jets that is supposed to be replaced by the F-35, and further cuts could affect maintenance contracts held by the state-controlled defence group Finmeccanica.
Italy’s highest-ranking military official Luigi Binelli Mantelli said on Tuesday that the armed forces were already in the process of reducing personnel by more than 20 percent by 2022.
“I challenge any other (public) administration to plan 50,000 job cuts in 10 years,” Binelli Mantelli told reporters at a conference in the capital.
Renzi said last week that defence spending would be cut by 3.7 billion euros in 2015-16, while a table of planned cuts published by Italian media on Tuesday put cuts at 4.3 billion euros, but gave no details.
“Further cuts can be made, and definitely there must be courage to get rid of the old and focus on what is most important,” Binelli Mantelli said. He did not comment on further cutbacks to the F-35 orders. ($1 = 0.7180 Euros)
Editing by Ruth Pitchford