- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 25, 2002


Italy became the second-largest partner in development of the Pentagon's newest fighter jet yesterday with a deal to contribute $1 billion to the program.

Six NATO countries have agreed to chip in more than $3.1 billion to help develop the $200 billion Joint Strike Fighter. The largest partner is the United Kingdom, which is contributing about $2 billion and plans to buy about 150 of the planes.

The supersonic fighter also called the F-35 is designed to combine high-tech capabilities with relatively bargain-basement prices. Lead contractor Lockheed Martin estimates each plane will cost between $40 million and $50 million, depending on whether it is built for conventional bases, aircraft carriers or short takeoffs and vertical landings.

The first 22 of the jets are scheduled to be built in 2008.

For the allied countries, participating in Joint Strike Fighter development gives their industries a chance to share in a large, high-tech project. Participants also get first crack at buying copies of the new fighter.

Italy probably will buy more than 100 of the planes, although that decision has yet to be made, said Adm. Giampaolo Di Paola, Italy's secretary-general of defense and national armaments director.

The new fighter "is a significant step forward in the way of modernizing our air capability," Adm. Di Paola said at a Pentagon news conference announcing the agreement.

For the United States, having allies help in the fighter's development reduces costs and strengthens military ties with friendly countries. And for Lockheed Martin, the participation means a ready market for the jets.

The Defense Department plans to buy about 3,000 F-35s, but officials have said that number could be reduced as financial and military requirements change.

The United States and Turkey are discussing having Turkey participate in developing the fighter as well, and the countries hope to have an agreement to announce in July, said Edward C. Aldridge, the Pentagon's acquisition chief.

Pentagon officials also are discussing different arrangements with Australia, Israel and Singapore, he said.

The Pentagon plans to use versions of the Joint Strike Fighter to replace various older fighters used by the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, such as the F/A-18, the F-16 and the A-10.

The plane is designed to combine supersonic speeds with stealth technology to thwart enemy radar. Versions for the Marines will be designed to hover and land vertically, while the Navy versions will be designed to take off and land on aircraft carriers.

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