Italian air force faces tough 12 months as cash cuts bite

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THE ITALIAN air force's first leased Royal Air Force Panavia Tornado F.3 Air Defence Variant (ADV) fighters will be deployed with the 36th wing at Gioia del Colle air base in June, marking one of the service's few high points over the next year as defence budget cuts bite harder.

A key issue for the air force, and Italian industry, will be whether funding can be found for the final development phase and to start tooling up for the Eurofighter 2000. The memorandum of understanding covering this is due to be signed in March, although the current air force budget is unable to cover the amount required.

No funding is available for the air force's requirement for between four and six airborne-early-warning aircraft, while a question mark hangs over the proposed replacement of the Piaggio PD.808 in the electronic-warfare role. A modified version of the two-seat AMX International AMX-T is the leading candidate for the latter mission.

In addition, bases are to be closed, squadrons disbanded and aircraft like the Fiat G-91Y fighter-bomber taken out of service.

Programmes which are going ahead include the Lockheed F-104 ASAM upgrade programme of up to 108 of the service's current fleet of 140 F-104 ASAs and TF-104Gs. The retrofit kit is due to be certificated by the end of 1995, followed by the modification of 18 TF-104s and 30 F-104 ASAs to the new standard.

Two squadrons, plus an operational-conversion unit, are due to be in service with the upgraded aircraft, by the end of 1997. Two other squadrons are scheduled to follow within two years.

Meanwhile, the conversion of 16 Tornados to the ECR defence-suppression role, is continuing as planned as is the procurement of four tanker aircraft, which will be operational by the end of this year.

The air force has also announced that, from 1995, it is to provide several squadrons of attack aircraft, plus some maritime-patrol aircraft, towards the air component of NATO Rapid Reaction Forces. Italy will also provide air-defence units.

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