Italy's armed forces are tackling budget cuts

-
Source:
This story is sourced from Flight International
Subscribe today »

The Italian armed forces are struggling to adjust to the post-9/11 world and the simultaneous demands for homeland defence and expeditionary warfighting, while also coping with continuing reductions in budget and personnel. The latest round of funding cuts at the Italian ministry of defence - which brought a 6.9% reduction in the 2009 military budget, plus a 29.1% cut in funding for operations and slashed the procurement budget by 20% - has necessitated a serious reconsideration of national defence capabilities.

"Due to the continuous adjustment of the acquisition and upgrading programmes in relation to the financial situation, the MoD has to make important decisions that dictate programme postponement, delays or suspension," says Italy's defence chief of staff Gen Vincenzo Camporini. "In the past in the aerospace sector, we made important decisions to satisfy operational requirements, in terms of upgrading activities to reduce platform and system obsolescence and to acquire new capabilities, in an interoperable international framework."

eurofighter typhoon 
 Eurofighter Typhoons have been acquired to replace F-104s

Today, the Italian air force is providing national air defence and deployed force protection thanks to the Eurofighters acquired to replace the Lockheed Martin F-16 gap fillers and the exhausted Lockheed F-104s. In the meantime, the transport fleet has been renewed with the Lockheed Martin C-130J and Alenia C-27J, which is interoperable with the Hercules II.

Power projection capabilities are being maintained with Panavia Tornado and Alenia/Embraer AMX fleet upgrading, awaiting the service entry of the Lockheed Joint Strike Fighter, which will boost defensive, offensive and network-centric warfare capabilities. Finally, Camporini highlights that the MoD has pioneered unmanned air vehicle operations, with new capabilities to be acquired in future.

The JSF represents the most important joint programme being conducted by the MoD, allowing the replacement of the current air force and navy fighter-bomber assets. The MoD is expected to acquire up to 131 aircraft to be delivered from 2014 in both conventional and STOVL versions.

PROGRAMME APPROVAL

"With the recent development of the planning activities for aircraft acquisition and final assembly and check-out facility establishment, the formal programme approval has begun and is expected to be completed by year-end, with the first aircraft delivery within the planned schedule, to begin in 2014," says Camporini. "The US government invited only the first- and second-level partners, including the UK, the Netherlands and Italy, to participate in the initial operational test and evaluation phase. However, recent defence budget remodulation required us to decline the offer and so the MoD won't participate to this important testing activities."

The MoD is also involved in different rotary-wing programmes to replace its fleet of tactical, support and combat search and rescue helicopters. As of this year the Italian army is receiving the tactical transport version of NH Industries' NH90 helicopter, while the navy will receive its first naval version helicopters in 2011. The army is also to replace its Boeing CH-47 Chinooks to improve tactical and logistic support for deployed joint forces, while the air force is to purchase a new platform to replace the CSAR/SAR helicopters.

"The MoD plans to replace the current army CH-47C Chinook with the new CH-47F version," says Camporini. "The operational requirement definition process related to the aircraft configuration, logistics support and number of platforms to be acquired was developed since the start of 2007. The delivery schedule is planned for 2011-16, with a total programme cost estimated at �800-900 million [$1-1.3 billion] for 16 helicopters. In 2008, the MoD's general directorate of aeronautical armaments requested a quotation from the AgustaWestland/Boeing joint venture and after a follow-on cost evaluation, the programme is ready to proceed, subject to the budget allocation release."

The EPAM programme provides for the replacement of Sikorsky HH-3F helicopters with a new platform capable of performing special forces and combat search and rescue support, personnel recovery and slow mover interceptor operations. The new platform, to be the AW101, will be equipped with kit to conduct logistics support, casevac/medevac, reconnaissance and SAR. Following programme approval, the MoD asked AgustaWestland for a quotation, and its response is now under evaluation. The acquisition phase is expected to be within 2011-14 and ddeliveries are planned to start three years after contract signature.

Tactical and strategic transport and deployment support represent other areas of great interest for all the services. "Italy has been one of the promoting nations of the Strategic Airlift Capability programme, which is considered fundamental for the current and future operations," says Camporini. "However, due to budget restrictions we are considering the terms of our participation in the programme." In the meantime the MoD is awaiting delivery of four Boeing KC-767A tankers, which according to the original plans were to undergo acceptance trials in 2007. Because of the programme delays, Boeing agreed to provide the MoD with a 767 for training. It began operations in July and will plug a gap until the first KC-767A arrives.

For tanker support capability to C-130J standard, the MoD has received from Alenia Aeronautica eight of 12 C-27J tactical transports. Two of these aircraft are already employed in operational theatre in Afghanistan, providing support to national forces and the International Security Assistance Force. "The possibility of employing fixed- and rotary-wing assets to organically support the special forces could effectively represent a joint force capability multiplier," says Camporini.

UAV PIONEEER

The MoD has pioneered the employment of long-endurance unmanned air systems. With the acquisition and entry into service of the General Atomics Predator A UAV - thanks to a joint armed forces programme led by the air force, which oversaw the purchase of five aircraft and two control stations and the participation of air force and navy personnel - Italy has become "the first European nation able to deploy these systems in operational theatres around the world", says Camporini. "The unmanned platforms provide precise and detailed information to avoid collateral damage. With the acquisition programme for the Predator B, including its sensors suite and logistics support, the MoD aims to maintain and improve the surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities provided by its Predator As, enhancing the assets' safety, availability and observation capability in adverse weather conditions, and reducing deployment time through its higher speed, thus increasing the protection umbrella of deployed forces and the national support in case of natural calamities."

The programme, high in the MoD's budget priorities, sees the acquisition of one Predator B system (four aircraft and control stations).

In the meantime, the MoD has launched the acquisition process for two additional Predator As, including sensors and a new ground control station, deliveries of which are expected to be concluded by the end of 2009.

ELECTRONIC INTELLIGENCE

Another important intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance programme is the replacement of the only electronic intelligence platform now in service, an Alenia G-222VS which is approaching retirement. The MoD is working on the Joint Airborne Multi-Sensor Multi-Mission System programme to find a flexible platform interoperable within the NATO and European Union environment and able to perform a range of operational missions, including data collection to develop and maintain updated electronic warfare libraries - although Camporini says acquisition of this platform is subject to budget.

Maritime surveillance capability is provided by a fleet of ageing Dassault Breguet Atlantique maritime patrol aircraft manned jointly by air force and navy personnel, set for retirement by 2012. Initially, participation in the US Maritime Multirole Mission Aircraft programme was planned, but budget reductions forced a postponement. The MoD has now opted for a gap filler and is leaning towards a specialised ATR platform.

With the increased request for satellite communications required by out-of-area operations, the MoD put into service in February 2001 the Sicral 1 milsatcom asset, also used by the ministry of interiors and civil protection, as well as NATO and allied countries. "In January 2009 we will launch the Sicral 1B, the twin satellite that will complete the constellation, offering improved capabilities," says Camporini.

The MoD's future space programme allows for a joint co-operation with the French defence ministry on two satellite programmes. The military Sicral 2 will replace the current satellite constellation at its life-end, while the second Athena-Fidus is a dual programme that, aside from the military component, includes the co-operation of the French and Italian space agencies. For surveillance, the Italian MoD participates in Helios I/II EO/IR, while all-weather capabilities will be offered by the new Cosmo-SkyMed constellation equipped with synthetic-aperture radar. The first two constellation satellites are planned to become operational by year-end.

"To deal with the ballistic missile threat, the Italian MoD is participating in NATO's initiative integrated testbed, contributing army, navy and air force technical support [under air force leadership]," says Camporini.

The MoD has also fielded the MBDA Storm Shadow conventional stand-off weapon system to deal with protected high-value targets. "With the successful achievement of the weapon system live trials in South Africa and the personnel training, we reached initial operational capability," says Camporini. "With the more recent completion of logistics support and the supply of all mission planning stations, we reached final operational capability."

Although the training of new pilots is not strictly a joint activity, as the three armed forces follow different training syllabi, synergies could be achieved. The adoption of Alenia Aermacchi's M-346 "will further improve capabilities" and provide leadership in fighter training. At international level further synergies will be pursued through participation to the Eurotraining programme and the use by foreign customers of Lecce air base, where phase III and IV training is being carried out.

DEFENCE

Spending squeeze

Defence chief of staff Gen Vincenzo Camporini explains how Italy's armed forces are dealing with budget cuts

LUCA PERUZZI GENOA

"The unmanned platforms

provide precise information

to avoid collateral damage"

Gen Vincenzo Camporini

Italy's defence chief of staff

The Italian air force has acquired Eurofighters to replace F-104s

At international level further

synergies will be pursued

through participation in the

Eurotraining programme