Several of the Italian air force’s requested equipment acquisitions and capability updates have been shelved in Italy’s 2006 defence budget, including a long-awaited programme to acquire a common aircraft type to meet national airborne early-warning and control (AEW&C), maritime patrol and airborne ground surveillance requirements.

The Boeing 737 had been widely tipped as the likely aircraft to provide airborne early-warning and to also replace Italy’s current Bregnet Atlantic 1 maritime patrol aircraft. The US company is believed to have been preparing an offer of three 737 AEW&C platforms, plus one option, and between six and eight P-8A Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft. While the loss of the expected AEW&C and ground surveillance elements could be partially offset by NATO’s E-3 AWACS and future Alliance Ground Surveillance fleets, Rome’s continued failure to fund a replacement for the Atlantic will pose more operational difficulties.

The air force will also not be able to advance plans to establish a suitable ammunition stock for its combat aircraft, to upgrade its Agusta AB212 helicopters, or to fund its planned Sicral 2 military secure communications satellite, which had been due for launch during 2011.

Defence minister Antonio Martino says the armed forces budget will fall by 11.2%, compared with 2005, to total €12.1 billion ($14.5 billion), representing just 0.84% of Italy’s gross national product – its lowest ever level. Operating and investment expenditures will both fall by around 40%, to €1.8 billion and €1.5 billion respectively, while personnel costs will climb by 9% to account for over 72% of Italy’s total defence expenditure.

In addition to losing several of its planned key procurements, the reduction in operating expenditures could have a heavy impact on the air force’s training levels, while heavily used equipment, such as transport helicopters currently operating in Afghanistan and Iraq, will place an increased demand on its shrinking budget.

However, Italy’s involvement in major international programmes, such as the Eurofighter Typhoon and NH Industries NH90, is unlikely to be affected by the cuts.


Source: Flight International