MILAN (AP) — Italy's defense minister and the U.S. ambassador to Italy announced Thursday that an Italian site run by defense contractor Finmeccanica has been designated as the assembly site and maintenance center for all F-35 fighter jets based in Europe.
The deal announced in Rome is a boost for Italy, which is suffering from double-digit unemployment and withering investments, as well as for Finmeccanica, whose image was tarnished by corruption allegations surrounding a helicopter contract for India. Two former executives were acquitted of corruption charges.
U.S. Ambassador John Philips said the selection of the site in the northern Piedmont region "will mean substantial benefits and technological development for Italy."
The Cameri site, part of Finmeccanica's Alenia Aermacchi division, is expected to produce the first fighter in March.
Finmeccanica CEO Mauro Moretti said the activities "will generate sizable economic and occupational returns," and will help Finmeccanica relaunch the group "with a focus on enhancing its core business areas of excellence."
Nine countries, including Britain, the United States, Turkey, Italy and the Netherlands are part of the Joint Strike Fighter program, which has been troubled by cost hikes and delivery delays.
Italy has reduced its initial order of 131 fighter jets to 90 to cut government spending in the face of economic contraction. Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti said that the Cameri deal shows that the fighter jets provide an economic opportunity for the country.