Andy Nativi/GENOA

The Italian air force is to purchase urgently 20 short-range air defence systems as part of a major rethink of its ability to defend air bases and other major installations in the wake of experience from NATO air operations against Yugoslavia.

The system is envisaged as a combination of missiles and artillery. The requirement calls for the first units to be delivered for service next year. A budget of L38-400 billion ($128-135 million) is available.

No indication of competitors has been released, but only off-the shelf equipment will be considered. Lead contenders are thought to be the Matra BAe Dynamics Mistral and Raytheon Stinger missiles as well as the 35mm Oerlikon Skyshield and 40mm Alenia Fast Forty guns.

An air force study indicates that direct attack against its airfields is unrealistic due to the risk of losses. A combination of defence-suppression attacks combined with stand-off weapons carrying smart or semi-autonomous munitions is the most likely form of assault.

The air force believes that the next generation air defence system will combine a gun-based close-in weapon system to counter anti-radiation missiles and other weapons and an outer ring of at least three short-range missile batteries.

Fire control will be local or from a centralised combat direction centre that will include search radar and identification equipment. It will have radar and electro-optical tracking systems for all-weather operation.

Although most systems will defend fixed targets, a number will be operated by a new mobile air defence unit, so system components must be air-deployable.

A programme is also under way to give a limited update to the 12 Alenia Marconi Systems Spada missile batteries employed to defend the main Italian air bases. The mobility of the system, which features the Aspide semi-active medium-range missile and associated fire control radars and a command and control centre, is also to be improved.

Eventually the close-range units would also be linked with the Spada batteries. At least two of the batteries will be used to form part of the mobile air defence unit being created for deployment abroad to defend air force units operating overseas.

Source: Flight International