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Published: Monday March 17, 2014 MYT 4:16:35 PM
Updated: Monday March 17, 2014 MYT 4:18:12 PM

Italy considers cutting F-35 fighter jet order

ROME (Reuters) - Italy may cut its order for 90 Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets as part of broad reductions in public spending, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said late on Sunday.

Renzi said Italy was seeking 3 billion euros ($4.18 billion)in savings on its defence budget over the next three years from closing barracks and from big-ticket items like the F-35.

"We will continue with our international programmes, we will continue with a strong air force but that programme will be revised," he said in an interview on Canale 5 television.

The order, scheduled to cost some 11.8 billion euros over 45 years from 2015, has been the subject of prolonged uncertainty as successive governments have sought to bring strained public finances under control.

The order has already been reduced from 131 aircraft and many in Renzi's centre-left Democratic Party (PD), as well as in opposition parties, would like to see it cut still further or scrapped altogether.

Italy, already struggling to keep its budget deficit within the European Union's limit of 3 percent of gross domestic product and saddled with the second heaviest debt burden in the eurozone after Greece, is looking for billions of euros in spending cuts in the coming years.

However cutting the order could affect Italian companies as it includes maintenance contracts for state-controlled defence technology group Finmeccanica.

The F-35, designed to be the next-generation fighter for decades to come for U.S. forces and their allies in NATO, has been hit by technical faults and is several years behind schedule and 70 percent above early cost estimates.

In a separate interview on SkyTG24 television, Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti said 385 barracks could be closed and the size of Italy's military could be cut over the next 10 years from 190,000 troops at present to 150,000 by 2024.

(Reporting By James Mackenzie; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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