The Italian Government is working on a restructuring plan which could cut the Italian air force's squadron numbers by more than one-third and slash staff levels.
The air force's plans for a 350-strong combat aircraft fleet appear untenable, and the Government is virtually certain to seek swingeing cuts in squadron numbers, according to defence sources.
If all the proposed cuts go through, the air force would be left with only 12 front-line squadrons by 2005, compared with 21 units this year.
Cuts under consideration include disbanding two air-defence squadrons, leaving what would eventually be four Eurofighter EF2000-equipped units.
Strike squadron numbers are also under threat. The air force will have to decide by 1999 whether to retain three Panavia Tornado squadrons dedicated for the strike mission, or whether to turn one into an operational conversion unit (OCU), retaining only a secondary-strike capability.
Establishing the OCU has become necessary because of the closure of the tri-national unit at Cottesmore in the UK. The Italian air force is also discussing with its German counterpart whether it could use the latter's Tornado training unit at Holloman AFB in New Mexico.
The air force's Alenia/Embraer AMX fighter-bomber/reconnaissance squadrons are also being cut. One of the two dedicated reconnaissance squadrons has already been disbanded, and one of the four fighter-bomber units also faces the axe. The Government review is also likely to force the air force to abandon its plans to modify the AMX for the electronic-warfare role.
The air force's transport plans are also under threat. It had hoped for a total of 60 aircraft, a mix of Alenia G222 and Lockheed Martin C-130JHercules, equipping four squadrons. Its ambition to form a fourth transport unit has been shelved, however.
Personnel numbers will also be reduced significantly. The official goal is to have an air force of 60,000 by late 1998, but a further cut of 5,000 is already being considered. The air force's command staff will be reduced by up to 50%.
The cuts are thought to be driven in part by a major shortfall in the air force's operating, maintenance and support funding.
Source: Flight International