Parliament okays controversial F-35 fighter deal

'To love peace you must arm peace' says defence minister

Parliament okays controversial F-35 fighter deal

Rome, June 26 - The Lower House on Wednesday voted to go forward with purchasing 90 Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets in a decision that risked splitting the left-right coalition government. "To love peace, you must arm peace. The F-35 responds to this need," said Defence Minister Mario Mauro following the vote. Cabinet members from clashing political parties inside the government were at odds leading up to the vote. The defence ministry had vowed to follow through on Italy's plan to purchase the stealth fighters, which at an estimated $200 million per unit are the costliest fighter jets in the world. Mauro, a member of the centrist Civic Choice party and formerly of the center-right People of Freedom (PdL) party led by ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, was opposed by Regional Cohesion Minister Graziano Delrio of the center-left Democratic Party (PD) who wanted more time to discuss the issue. The PD had campaigned to cut spending on the F-35 program ahead of elections in late February. But after failing to win a clear majority, the center left was forced to forge an unprecedented alliance with arch rivals the PdL, which supports the fighter program. According to the defence ministry, the 90 aircraft will replace 256 obsolete fighters in the Italian airforce. The government will spend approximately 11.8 billion euros on the program over 45 years starting in 2015. With radar-evading technology, it has been championed for its advanced design but also heavily criticized for allegedly not meeting the criteria of modern warfare, marked more by guerilla insurgencies than airborne dogfights. Amid the economic crisis, last year the Italian government announced plans to cut its order to 90 from the 131 originally agreed in 2002, saving the country some five billion euros. An opposition motion to scrap the deal argued that the money saved by eliminating a single jet could build over 380 day cares or refurbish almost 260 schools. That motion was defeated Wednesday. Nine countries are involved in developing the F-35: Italy, Canada, the United States, Britain, Netherlands, Australia, Norway, Denmark and Turkey. Had Italy reduced its investment in the program it would have caused a ripple affect for each of its partner countries that develop different components of the fighter jet. Italian MPs also voted in the motion that any future changes to the number of Italy's F-35s must first be approved by parliament.

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