Saturday, March 22, 2014

Italy and the F-35: the PD document that backs the cuts - UPDATE

Current status of the program: the defence ministry has agreed to freeze the negotiations for further aircraft, while the defence white paper is produced, for publishing by December according to the current plan.
The freeze in the payments, according to italian defence analysts, actually applies only to the early long lead orders for the LRIP 10 production lot, for which negotiation began in february this year. The firm order for the production of these aircraft would come in 2016.
In the meanwhile, the acquisition of the 3 F-35A of LRIP 6, the 3 F-35A of LRIP 7 is going ahead. These are the only aircraft that Italy has signed definitive contracts for. In this summer, Italy will also sign the production contract for LRIP 8, with two F-35A, while next year there will be the order for LRIP 9. See the previous article for details of the production schedule for Italy, which was restructured in 2013.

Important news have come from Israeli officers, which, after voicing their intention to open a MRO line for their F-35s in Israel are now opening up to the idea of sending their aircraft to the single MRO facility for the European and Mediterranean area, which is supposed to eventually be located in the Cameri FACO, in Italy. The best chance for Italy to get a long term economic and technical return is to be selected as location for the single MRO facility: that would mean maintaining USAFE, Israeli, dutch, british and norwegian F-35s over the coming decades, assuming that negotiations with all these countries go ahead.
Italy has held preliminary talks with other F-35 partners, and the Cameri FACO is going to assemble the F-35s for the Netherlands. Italy, in exchange, will send its F-135 engines in the Netherlands for depot maintenance. It is widely expected that Netherlands will continue to lean on the Italian FACO for the regular depot maintenance of its jets.
United Kingdom and Norway have, in recent times, concluded preliminary collaboration agreements over the F-35: the scenario that is taking shape sees the brits standing up an Integrated Training Centre in the UK, which norwegian pilot could use to avoid the costs of sending their personnel all the way to Luke AFB, in the USA. The British would reciprocate by sending their F-135 engines to Norway for maintenance. None of the two countries will have a MRO depot, so for deep maintenance they are faced by the choice between Cameri or the US.
While Italy is currently planning to have its pilots trained in the US, it can be reasonably assumed that negotiations will be made to have italian pilots trained in the UK's ITC instead, in exchange for a depot maintenance agreement. Negotiations should also eventually resume with Norway, with which Italy had held successful preliminary talks in the early 2000s.
One of the greatest critiques moved to the F-35 program is the industrial and workshare returns aren't satisfactory: the biggest source of work, the depot maintenance, is a promise currently not guaranteed by firm contracts. Forging firm agreements in this area would be a major boost to the popularity of the F-35 program in Italy, so the Israeli opening is particularly important.

It is evident that these industrial plans, and the international agreements already signed or hoped for will have to be considered as part of the White Paper. While workshare returns as of now appear uncertain and mostly based on the conclusion of future collaboration deals, excessive cutbacks to Italy's committment to the program could be the death blow to the hopes of making of Cameri a winning investment.
There are at least two requisites for which Italy absolutely needs the F-35, and in both the A and B variants: the F-35A, at the bare minimum, is needed to replace the Tornado IDS in the NATO tactical nuclear bomber role. At least a squadron of F-35A, eventually to receive integration with the B61-12 nuclear bomb, is planned to replace the current "nuclear" squadron on Tornado on the Ghedi air base.
Another group is needed, with F-35B this time, to equip the aircraft carrier Cavour.
Current plans include further F-35A to replace Tornado IDS in the strike role and AMX aircraft in CAS role, in up to three other squadrons.  One air force group on F-35B as CAS asset is also planned.

While a reduction from 90 aircraft is almost certain, halving the order would have a dramatic effect on the future of the air force, and defence chiefs are unsurprisingly already pushing back with their full force against the misinformed attacks.

Attacks which are misinformed for real. Let's see what the document produced by the PD members in the defence committee says.

The document that backs the cuts 

The internal document produced by Partito Democratico (PD) members that have taken part, over the past months, to multiple hearins with the armed forces chiefs and industry representatives has been revealed to the press. The document is born out of the initiative of Gian Piero Scanu, head of the PD group in the Defence Committee and a well known enemy of defence spending, which never fails to show his very lacking understanding of defence matters. As was to be expected, the document looks like the product of an hour of the attention of an 8-year old boy.

On the F-35 story, which is the one which caught the international attention the most, the document reaches its top levels. The document says it is necessary to explore other solutions for the renewal of the Navy's fighter fleet, made up of STOVL aircraft, the only ones which can take off from the relatively small aircraft carrier Cavour. It will be a short exploration, since there isn't any alternative to the F-35B in this specific area.
The document also says that the air force is wrong in saying that the Typhoon has little to no air to ground capabilities and won't have them for several more years, even with big investments on the way. The Typhoon is "fully operational", the politicians say they have discovered in the hearings.
Of course it is. In the air defence role, since 2005. Big discovery. The real discovery, and this one truly does amaze everyone, is that there is a fully multirole Typhoon in production: it is called RAPHALE and it is the "french variant of Typhoon".
Well, i'm sure Eurofighter and Dassault will both be delighted of finding this out.

A big advantage of throwing more money into Typhoon by producing this "french variant" is that the "works-shearing" arrangements are more favorable than those of the F-35 program.

Il caccia multiruolo Typhoon, nella versione di attacco al suolo, non solo sarà prodotto, ma risulterà competitivo con il JSF della Lockheed. Questa versione dell'Eurofighter sarà messa a disposizione delle missioni UE, NATO e ONU da numerosi alleati europei (Austria, Spagna, Germania e Inghilterra, mentre la Francia utilizzerà la versione “Raphale”).

E' necessario quindi che il nostro Paese mantenga e rafforzi con convinzione la partecipazione delle aziende italiane a questo programma, tenendone sotto controllo i costi, ma anche avendo presente che il sistema di works-shearing, che tiene insieme tutti i programmi di cooperazione europea, garantisce ad ogni paese ritorni in nessun caso inferiori alle proprie quote di investimento.

Sorry France, we should have told you earlier: you are apparently building a Typhoon variant named RAPHALE...

Yes, the Rafale is a multi-role aircraft with air to ground capabilities much more developed than the Typhoon's, and with an AESA radar already in production.
But, sorry Scanu, it is not in any way a Typhoon variant named Raphale...

The "Raphale" is not the only priceless discovery of this document. The terrible english isn't, either. Not even the terrible italian used in some passages, even if it is rape on Dante's language.

The programs of the Navy are seen favorably by the politicians (the new defence minister Roberta Pinotti, born in Genova, has her electoral base in the area of the shipyards which would build the new ships, so for this and other reasons it is not surprising) but even here, of course, they call for some sacrifices. They say that Italy can't afford two aircraft carriers: well, they are a bit late with this discovery, since Italy already has only one aircraft carrier, the Cavour, and no plans to operate another. The older Garibaldi is tied up in port, receiving limited maintenance in the hope of being used for a few more years, but as an helicopter ship in support of amphibious operations, due to the very limited (if not non-existant) helicopter hangarage and maintenance facilities available on the tiny LPDs of the "Santi" class. Garibaldi is meant to be a gap filler on the way to the construction of a 20.000 tons LHD which would replace both her and one of the three Santi ships.
The savings from removing Garibaldi, due to her no longer having an air group and aircraft carrier ambitions, would actually be modest. The Navy has long been considering the option of doing away with the ship, and politicians would want to see Garibaldi sold.
The navy would be fine with selling her, but the problem is that the market isn't really big for ships of this kind: old, manpower-intensive and without air group (Harriers these days are rare and precious, and with the british GR9s sold as spare parts to the US Marines, there really isn't any Harrier on sale anywhere). Any buyer would only be able to put helicopters on her, and even in this role Garibaldi would have to beat the rivalry of the spanish Principe de Asturias, which Spain would also gladly sell off.

The document also makes a mess of the italian army's plans, all of them apparently collectively grouped up under the heading "Forza NEC" and under a notional, impressive and almost certainly wildly speculative pricetag of "20 billions", which obviously should be re-thought. How? Who knows. They seem to be putting in the same basket things such as the future soldier system (Soldato Futuro), the Iveco Lince 4x4 vehicle, the Orso VTMM in all its variants, the modernization of the Ariete MBT, the purchase of the Freccia 8x8 armored vehicle family for the medium weight brigades and many other programs.
The PD politicians are somehow convinced that Forza NEC is not able to operate alongside similar NATO network enabled system of systems, and want european standardization. In part, this might be true, and it would indeed be desirable to achieve better synergies in European defence programs, but sorry Scanu: France, Germany and UK and others aren't exactly going to listen to what you have to say, i fear, and readily follow your orders. 

Finally, Scanu sneaks in another big plan of his: getting rid of the army training grounds in italy, particularly the most important and strategic of them, like Capo Teulada and the weapons training range of Salto di Quirra, in his native Sardinia.
Scanu hates the army's range on the island, it is not a new thing. He has recently stated that the italian army should close all its ranges, in favor of using a "multinational training range" which should be developed in Europe. Somewhere. Anywhere but not in Italy.
Of course, mr. Scanu. I can already see nations rushing forth with money and will to build a mega training range which can fullfil your dream of allowing all european armies to train in the same place.
The document is, thankfully, not so direct as Scanu was in interviews, but it still calls for rationalization of training areas at European level to build common ranges. It also calls for standardization on a single type of rifle, tactical vest, helmet, grenade etcetera. Which, mind you, does have its sense. But, again, it is wishful thinking. Especially since, of course, the unspoken bit of thought in Scanu's mind is that the european rifle should be italian, made by Beretta, as well as probably every other bit of kit the document quotes.

Good luck with getting the rest of Europe to agree.

Is this document serious, well researched, belieavable? No. It is junk. Even worse than i expected it to be.
Is it dangerous for the future of the italian armed forces and the F-35? Yes. Politicians of this kind, with this spectacular level of ignorance even after months of hearings and explanations by the defence chiefs (it is clear that lawmakers have listened to very little of what was said in the hearings), are dangerous for any and everything.
Will this document be torn apart in the next phase of studies and decision-making when it is brought before government? Yes. I very much hope and think so.

It is such a piece of garbage that it wouldn't surprise me if it was cancelled from the web to hide the stupidity of it, while a patched up variant is thrown together. Download it and preserve the memory of it: the Eurofighter RAPHALE asks you to do so! 

Download link (in italian) 

UPDATE: trade union that was reported as being happy with cuts to F-35 already starts backing off as it understands that a cut to F-35 will not mean more Typhoons. Says (with some reason) that Italy was unable to negotiate a truly advantageous deal in terms of technology and work sharing, but that it looks forwards to talking about a serious policy for defence and for investments in the defence field. Asks for a "rethink" on the F-35 program, not for cuts anymore. Better to seek better terms on the F-35 than hope in more Typhoons that were never going to come.

Trade union statement

How surprising.

Oh, and of course, nevermind that Forza NEC (Force NEC, from Network Enabled Capabilities) in the statement becomes NEK, an italian singer...

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Italy and the F-35: what is actually happening?

Press in Italy and abroad has gone into a frenzy over the news that Italy "will further cut its F-35 order, even halving it". But reality is a bit different. 
Big cuts might be coming. Or might not. 

Prime minister Renzi has announced that he is seeking 2.5 to 3 billion euro savings in defence spending in the next 3 years of parliament. The new defence minister, Roberta Pinotti, has underlined the need for a strategic review that sets the requirements and decides the future of the italian armed forces, and both PM and defence minister have confirmed that a review of the F-35 program will be part of these operations. It is also true that there is strong opposition against the F-35 in many parties and groups, including Renzi’s own party. It is a part of Renzi's own Democratic Party which has called to halve the purchase of the F-35, down to 45. But to report of this call as what is going to actually happen to the program is a very wild call, at the moment. It is obvious that cuts to defence are going to happen and something will go for sure. The F-35 program will contribute to achieving these savings, but there is actually little that can actually be cut off the F-35 program in the next three years, and there are a lot of factors to consider in order to understand what is going on. 
F-35 development money is spent and gone. 800 million for the FACO have also already been spent. This money can’t be affected in any way. Italy has actually already slowed down the planned rhythm of its purchases, putting together a different plan already back in July 2013. So far, firm contracts have been signed only for 6 F-35A, spread 3 in LRIP 6 and 3 in LRIP 7.
Four more F-35A were planned to be ordered in LRIP 8, but the plan has already been reviewed downwards to just 2. The LRIP 9 was expected to include the first F-35B for the Navy and three more F-35A, but the plan has been reviewed and from four aircraft we are now down to 3 (1 F-35B, 2 F-35A).
The LRIP 10, in the latest projections, is described as including 4 aircraft (2 F-35A and 2 F-35B for the Navy), against 6 planned earlier (2 F-35A, 3 F-35B for the Navy and the first F-35A for the air force).
The first F-35B for the air force is now not due for delivery before 2021 (was to be 2018, originally). By the same date, the Navy will have received 10 F-35B.
The LRIP 11 appears to have been cut back from 6 to 5 jets: it was to include 2 F-35A, 2 F-35B navy, 2 F-35B air force while now it will include 3 F-35A and 2 F-35B for the Navy.
However, these changes are, as of now, a revised delivery schedule, not a net cut, as the totals remain, for delivery by 2027: 90 aircraft in total, made up of 60 F-35A, 15 F-35B for the Air Force and 15 F-35B for the Navy.
The LRIP 8 order is expected to be placed within the summer, while the LRIP 9 order would be placed next year. The lots 8, 9, 10 and 11 are those realistically most affected by the reduction in spending announced for the next three years. Delaying the purchase of several aircraft is obviously going to result in a short term saving; the question is whether this delay will be enough to achieve the current spending cut targets, or if the plan will be changed once more. 

The modified delivery schedule for Italy's F-35s, as has been coming together since summer 2013, as reported by Italy's Analisi Difesa ( Several aircraft are delayed from early LRIPs to later multi-year purchases. This will ensure savings in the next three years: will they be enough?
It is possible that a complete, temporary stop to orders could be chosen. The LRIPs allocations over the next three years could be reviewed downwards again. But it might also not happen. It is too early to say.
Cutting the order to 45 however, appears unlikely. First of all, the savings coming from such a decision would not be available in the short term, unless the program is frozen entirely and orders resume only a few years into the future. The scope for savings in the short term is very small, and changing the long term totals, considering that the purchase is spread over more than a decade, will only bring results in the long term. Renzi mostly cares about saving money now, as it needs funds to re-direct on his own spending priorities and, hopefully, on much needed tax cuts to help the economy. 
Stil, a complete freeze to the purchases is unlikely, i'd think, considering that Renzi openly said he remains committed to the program and to the collaboration with Washington: freezing the orders entirely wouldn’t go down very well with the partners. The chiefs of Air Force and Navy are also arguing with all their voice to ensure that they receive their F-35s relatively soon. The AMX and Tornado IDS are aging and the air force fears capability gaps opening as early as 2018, and while the navy's AV-8B+ Harriers are still relatively young, the Navy is just as eager to move onwards sticking to schedule. The Harrier fleet is tiny, and the airframes being worked have been pretty much always the same: they might be young in terms of years, but they have fatigue on their airframes.
The only way to achieve big savings would be to review the whole requirements in the White Paper, set even smaller aircraft and manpower targets for the Air Force, and likely remove from the ORBAT some squadrons of AMX and Tornado IDS, early and without replacement. Cutting orders of new aircraft which would not actually happen for years and keep spending big money on the aging platforms meant to be replaced by those would have little sense and very much limit the extent of the savings in the near future. Of course such decisions could well be made, but it is all to be seen.

Some press suggests that buying more Typhoons in place of part of the F-35s might be an option. Everything is possible in theory, of course, but it should be noted that this is definitely not what the defence chiefs want. Nor is it a realistic or a financially advantageous proposal.
Building more Typhoons is a wish of Finmeccanica, NOT of the air force. Finmeccanica would get greater gains from building more Typhoons rather than from building F-35, due to how the two programs work. However, the Air Force chief definitely does not wishes to take over more Typhoons: the plan is actually to soon withdraw from service up to 24 Tranche 1 aircraft (the indecision on numbers is due to a decision to be made on the fate of the 2-seat aircraft used for training) leaving 72 or 75 Typhoons out of the 96 being purchased. The Italian Air Force has been the first to start using Typhoon for QRA, but it has also been probably the less supportive partner, in recent years at least.

An (unlikely) order placed for the Tranche 3B Typhoons also risks having political implications in the international arena. The four Typhoon partners (UK, Germany, Spain and Italy) have all expressed their intention not to purchase the Tranche 3B: if one partner was to rethink on the issue, the Eurofighter consortium would probably try even harder to obtain penalty payments from the other countries: UK, Germany and Spain do not want to spend more money on more Typhoons, and most certainly don’t want to pay big penalties either. The matter could end up proving very complex. It is highly unlikely that the proposal could ever gain the willing support of the defence chiefs to start with: the Italian Air Force does not actually believe in the air to ground capabilities of the Typhoon. The service isn’t even quite exploiting the capabilities introduced by the P1E program, and considers the Typhoon a solution for the sole air dominance requirement and, possibly, for the launch of Storm Shadow cruise missiles in the future. And the Italian Typhoons are being delivered missing some capabilities altogether: even the Tranche 3As, differently from those built for the UK, do not have the full predisposition for conformal fuel tanks, nor the fuel dump system. All signals of the enduring unwillingness to invest on a truly multi-role Typhoon which is not seen as the solution for the needs of the service in terms of Strike and CAS.

Even if more Typhoons were forced down the throat of the air force, the total would not be 121, as the 20 or so Tranche 1 are due to be removed from service as they are going to age badly unless a lot of money is forked out to upgrade them to standards closer to those of the Tranche 2 and 3 examples. They would have, again, to force the air force to do something that is against all planning. Possible, but unlikely that the government will go this far.

Finally, halving the F-35 order would only mostly damage Italy itself, which will have spent a lot of money on the FACO, only to destroy its return with its own hands. Already, the massive reductions already experienced (131 to 90 for Italy, and 85 to just 37 for Netherlands) have reduced, to say the least, the cost-effectiveness of the assembly line, which now pins its hopes of becoming a source of financial and technical returns almost exclusively on being chosen as the Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility for all F-35 users in Europe and in the Mediterranean area. Alenia's role as  second-source provider of wings for the F-35 has already been hurt by the cut
from 131 to 90 aircraft, which has resulted in Lochkeed Martin cutting back its minimum promise of work from 1215 to 835 wing sets, and the deal would only worsen with a new reduction. 
The biggest risk to Italy's industry and financial returns is that some other european F-35 partner could exploit the chance and make a big return in the race for the MRO site and get the contracts and decades of maintenance work, leaving Cameri as an expensive cathedral in the desert. That would be a true disaster. 

All these reasons make further big cuts to the F-35 order relatively unlikely. Possible, of course, but before announcing dramatic changes are coming to the program, i’d be very careful. The review of the program might actually deliver relatively mild changes to the plan.
The effects of the "review" of the F-35 program in Italy could go in many ways: it could cut the (arguably useless) 15 F-35B for the Air Force, hopefully growing the Navy's order from 15 to 20 or so, as for original plan. 

The purchase of F-35B for land use by the Air Force remains arguably the most controversial part of the italian F-35 program.

The 15 / 15 F-35B was a political deal forced on the Air Force and Navy when the 131 F-35 were cut to 90 (original 131 aircraft plan called for : 69 F-35A, 40 F-35B air force, 22 F-35B Navy). Experts generally agree that the F-35B for the air force, officially meant to cover the requirement to operate from “austere” air facilities in expeditionary operations, are a waste of money. There is also bitter consent on the hypothesis that what the Air Force really wants with its purchase of F-35B is to follow the RAF’s example and get rid of the uncomfortable presence of an independent deployable air power capability wearing Navy colours, by absorbing it.

The Navy has been severely hampered in its plans by the cut from 22 to just 15 F-35B, which aren’t quite sufficient to cover training, attrition, back up and frontline requirements, forcing a downsizing of the realistic, routine air group for the Cavour aircraft carrier. 22 jets were meant to support a training fleet of 3 based in the US, 5 aircraft unavailable / in maintenance and a forward available fleet routinely reaching the total of 14 jets.
A fleet of 15 jets, maintaining the training fleet of 3, would support at most 9 deployable aircraft.

The air force’s own F-35B will be based alongside the Navy’s ones on the navy base in Grottaglie, to concentrate the B logistics on the same base. However, the Navy has fought to the end (and successfully) to keep the two squadrons well and truly separated. The carrier deployments are meant to be covered by the sole Navy squadron. The result, as it is, is that the dangerous mess of a “fusion” Joint Force Harrier-style is avoided, but what’s left is two pitifully small groups, with the Air Force’s one lacking a convincing reason of existence. 

The FACO in Cameri has required a huge investment. Getting back the money will become next to impossible if wrong decisions are taken.

Most, if not all experts, agree that if the 90 F-35s are to be cut further, it is the 15 F-35B for the air force that should be at the top of the list of candidate victims.
A reduction from 90 to 80, with a 60 / 20 split between A and B, air force and Navy, would be seen with favour by many, including myself. A better option still would be to keep the order for 90 aircraft, but still reduce the number of Bs to no more than 22, all destined to the Navy. The air force would get 8 more F-35A instead of F-35Bs. The overall cost would shrink (the B is more expensive to both buy and operate / maintain) and, arguably, better overall capability would be delivered. 

The aircraft carrier Cavour, sailing for an exercise in 2012, carrying AV-8B+ Harrier of the "Wolves" group
We’ll see what comes out of the review and of the White Paper. Talking of halving the F-35 order, at this time at least, seems a very wild call. The reality is likely to be quite different. At least if defence chiefs get to say a word in the planning.