Italy's new defence minister, Antonio Martino, is questioning the country's planned acquisition of the Airbus Military Company A400M transport, telling Rome's Senate defence committee that he doubts the "need and relevance" of the purchase.

Rome has a requirement for 16 A400Ms, but Martino did not attend the signing ceremony for the transport aircraft programme during the Paris air show in June.

Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, Turkey and the UK signed a memorandum of understanding, with Martino ostensibly staying away because he had only been in the post a few days.

But Martino told the defence committee: "There is a need to review the topic and ascertain if the aircraft is really needed by the Italian armed forces and if the programme is cost-effective, due to the high costs of the project." He said it was "probably worth" investigating the procurement and evaluating "alternative solutions that could be more practicable and cheaper".

The Italian air force is no in urgent need of the A400M because it has orders for 22 Lockheed MartinC-130JHercules with options for two more and is committed to procuring 12 Alenia/Lockheed Martin C-27JSpartans. It also recently ordered four Boeing 767 tanker/transports and has options on two more. Italy does not plan to take A400Ms until 2015, seven years after the first aircraft are handed over.

Air force sources say there is opposition to the programme because there is too much overlap between the A400M and C-130J. The air force wants to keep its transport fleet at about 40-50, depending on size and cost.

The sources expect a review of Italian A400M participation in the near term, including an evaluation of the military requirements, budget priorities and Rome's commitment to the European rapid reaction force, in addition to Italian industrial participation.

Source: Flight International