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Italian air force signs up to join Meteor development

ANDY NATIVI / GENOA

Country's Eurofighters will be armed with AMRAAMs until new missile is available in 2010

The Italian air force intends to acquire 400 MBDA Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missiles (AAM)for its 121 Eurofighters, the first of which will arrive next year.

France, Sweden and the UK gave Meteor the go-ahead at the Paris air show in June, while Germany, Italy and Spain only signalled an intention to sign up to the programme once national approvals are in place. Last month the Italian parliament approved the signing of the Meteor memorandum of understanding (MoU) initialled at Paris.

Italy's requirement for 400 Meteors takes account of the air force's need initially to arm Eurofighter with the Raytheon AIM-120AMRAAM missile. The 400-round figure is based on probable weapon use rates and likely armament configurations.

An initial batch of AMRAAMs has been acquired for the Eurofighter and the Italian navy's Boeing/BAE Systems Harrier II Plus and it is expected that a further 100 missiles will be purchased. This will provide enough weapons to maintain AMRAAM stocks until the Meteor enters service around 2010.

Italy's stake in Meteor development is 12%, although its share of the production phase is expected to be 18%. This requires c126 million ($115 million) for the development phase and c390 million for industrialisation and production.

Italy's industry will participate in Meteor through MBDA, the company created by the merger of Matra BAE Dynamics and Alenia Marconi Systems' missile activities, and will focus on seeker development. Italian Eurofighters' short-range missile will be another pan-European development, the BGT-led IRIS-T.

MBDA chief operating officer designate Alan Garwood says around 80% of Meteor development talks have been completed, and while there are still "difficult bits" to conclude, he is confident of contract signing by year-end.

The programme awaits the conclusion of the German and Spanish approval processes. Both are expected to sign the MoU this year.

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