pROME – Italy has given up the chance of taking part in a pending initial evaluation stage within the Joint Strike Fighter program, the apparent consequence of budget cuts./ppWhile it remains a program partner, intending to buy up to 131 aircraft, and has invested in the development phase, Italy will no longer exercise an option to buy two low-rate production fighters which it would have used in the early testing and evaluation phase of the aircraft./pp”Italy was studying the possibility of joining the F-35 Initial Operational Test and Evaluation phase but has elected not to participate at this time,” a Lockheed Martin official told Reuters./ppLockheed Martin officials have previously said Italy was mulling the purchase of one fighter from the third stage of the Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) stage, and one from the fourth./ppAn Italian defense official confirmed that as a result of withdrawing from the initial test and evaluation phase of the aircraft, Italy would not be buying the two low-rate production aircraft./ppNow, Britain and the Netherlands are the only other partners on the U.S. led program scheduled to take part in the initial operational test and evaluation program./ppItaly’s decision to give up its role in the phase comes as the Italian government cuts military spending in 2009 by 6.9 percent, leaving a draft budget of 15.4 billion euros ($20.9 billion). Spending on investment, which includes procurement, is down 20.6 percent from 3.64 billion to 2.89 billion euros./p

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