The release of the Italian MoD’s Multi-Year Planning Document 2020-2022 (Documento Programmatico Pluriennale or DPP 2020-2022) last October and the related discussion in Parliament underscores the level of attention paid to defence planning and funding despite the challenges and budget restrictions caused by the economic crisis resulting from the pandemic. The Parliament’s authorisation of the bill for 2021 and beyond will provide the required level of confidence in budget allocations for the announced developments, but the unveiling of a longer, multi-year planning and budget document to be approved is expected to provide a minimum level of stability to the multi-year defence procurement programmes. As highlighted by the Italian Minister of Defence, the DPP 2020-2022 includes the launch of 40 procurement/modernisation programmes which will be supported annually with funding in excess of €5Bn and provide the Italian Armed Forces the required capabilities. This Viewpoint looks at the main new programmes against the background of the latest contract awards and programme milestones in the second half of 2020.
Land and Joint Programmes
On 30 December 2020, the Italian MoD’s Land Armaments Directorate awarded Consorzio Iveco-OTO Melara (CIO) the contract for 86 CENTAURO II 8×8 armoured vehicles with options for an additional 10 units, including integrated logistic support. In addition to the contract for the first 10 CENTAURO II vehicles awarded in 2018, and in the scope of a total requirement for 150 new armoured vehicles, the new generation CENTAURO programme is part of the Italian Army General Staff’s plan to provide the Cavalry regiments with a platform which delivers a maximum degree of safety, even in operational theatres characterised by a high level of threat. In terms of power, observation capability, mobility, ergonomics, firing capabilities, crew protection and range, the CENTAURO II marks a major step forward compared to the in-service CENTAURO I.
The procurement programme for the 8×8 VBM FRECCIA wheeled Armoured Infantry Fighting Vehicle (AIFV) provided by the CIO consortium is progressing with the first batch of vehicles built in the scope of the latest contract that was awarded in December 2019 for 30 FRECCIA vehicles in different versions. Acceptance trials started in late 2020 with the objective of the first vehicles to enter service by next February, despite the challenges imposed by the pandemic. Last July, the contract was amended with the option for 11 additional units.
While the DDP 2020-22 continues to fund the Light Multi-Purpose Vehicle (LMV) VTLM 2 LINCE from Iveco Defence Vehicles, the Italian Army launched a procurement programme to replace the wheeled AR90 Land Rover DEFENDER still in service. An initial contract for 210 vehicles plus technical assistance, training and options for a further 210 units was awarded last September to Africa Automotive Distribution Services (AADS) offering the J8 light military 4×4 vehicle based on the new Jeep WRANGLER. The overall requirement is for 2,400 vehicles. Last December, the Parliament also approved the procurement of a new special forces tactical transport platform.
Based on a contract awarded in December 2019, Leonardo delivered the first Italian AW-169 basic training twin engine helicopters to the Italian Army last July as part of the Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) programme aimed at replacing the AB-212/412, AB-205/206 and A-109 with a single platform based on the AW-169M for all branches of the forces. The Italian MoD also awarded a new €345M contract for completion of the development of the new advanced multi-role configuration of the AW-169 LUH requested by the Army and delivery of 15 helicopters out a total requirement of 50 aircraft.
In December, the Parliament also approved another design phase as well as the certification process for the new reconnaissance and escort helicopter (NESS, Elicottero da Esplorazione e Scorta) developed by Leonardo to replace the current fleet of MANGUSTA aircraft. The overall programme funding for a total of 48 helicopters is €2.7Bn. A few days after the parliamentary hearing on the DPP 2020-2022 document, the Italian Minister of Defence Lorenzo Guerini acknowledged the “opportunities underlying the possible Italian participation in the (United States’) Future Vertical Lift Programme in relation to which the dialogue between industrial and institutional counterparts is still ongoing”.
The DPP 2020-2022 also includes the acquisition programme for five new generation KRONOS GRAND High Power (HP) radars as the surveillance and tracking sensors for the new SAMP/T New Generation (NG) air defence missile programme. Under contract to OCCAR on behalf of Italy and France, SAMPT NG will see the development of new command, control and fire modules, as well as the integration of the new Block 1 NT and Block 1 NT Enhanced Capability (EC) versions of the ASTER 30 family of surface-to-air missiles, capable of countering both air breathing and ballistic missile threats.
Air and Space Programmes
On 3 January, the Italian MoD announced a major milestone for the participation in the TEMPEST 6th generation combat aircraft programme. A trilateral agreement for the aircraft development was signed on 21 December by the ministers of defence of the UK, Sweden and Italy, designated Future Combat Air System Cooperation Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). According to the announcement, the agreement governs “the general principles for an equal collaboration between the three countries and concerns all activities including research, development and joint concepting. The same agreement will be followed by the Project Arrangements and the Full Development phase, currently scheduled to start in 2025 with initial funding included in the EUROFIGHTER programme and identified as “technological transition” developments toward a 6th generation platform. The programme is expected to be presented in Parliament for approval in 2021.
Another Air Force programme expected to be launched soon is the procurement of two multi-mission and multi-sensor ISR and EW aircraft based on the Gulfstream Aerospace G-550 with communication links and a ground-segment as part of a larger programme covering six additional ‘green platforms’ as well as a logistic and infrastructure support package. A budget of €12Bn has been earmarked for the initial phase, namely the procurement of the two ISR/EW platforms. While the Italian Air Force is currently equipped with two G-550 Conformal Airborne Early Warning & Control System (CAEW) aircraft with a mission system from Elta, the Italian MoD requested US Government approval – which was granted in December – for an FMS procurement of two Gulfstream G-550 equipped with the AISREW mission suite provided by L3Harris.
There were two more developments of relevance for the Italian MoD and Air Force late last year. The new International Flight Training School (IFTS) at the Italian Air Force’s base in Decimomannu, Sardinia, was inaugurated on 16 December. Seen as the establishment of an international benchmark for military pilots training, the facility will utilise a fleet of 22 M-346 advanced/lead-in fighter trainers and a comprehensive Ground-Based Training System (GBTS), with initial operations starting in 2022. In parallel, the service received the first two new M-345 High Efficiency Trainers (HET) basic trainers from Leonardo, which will gradually replace the current MB-339 fleet, integrating with the IFTS and providing phase II and III of the training syllabus while the M-346 will provide the advanced/lead-in fighter training (phase IV). The Italian MoD has so far procured 18 M-345 HET units in light of an overall requirement of 45 aircraft. The acquisition includes the GBTS including the Live Virtual Constructive (LVC) capability and in-service logistic support.
Last November, the Italian Air Force received the first of 17 HH-139 helicopters from Leonardo in the new ‘B’ version with a higher maximum take-off weight and featuring a new avionic and sensor suite. The new helicopters will complement the current fleet of 13 HH-139A aircraft to conduct a range of missions from Combat Search & Rescue (CSAR) to slow mover interceptor. Last August, the Italian Air Force assigned the first HH-101A CSAR and special forces support helicopter to the 9th Wing special forces support unit. According to the DDP 2020-2022, the fleet of 12 HH-101 aircraft currently under procurement, the full combat configuration, which includes an extended self-protection suite provided by Elettronica, is planned to grow to 15 aircraft.
The Defence Space Enforcement Segment of the Italian MoD took advantage of two major milestones during the last months of 2020. In November, the Parliament approved the launch of the SICRAL 3 programme for a new generation space communications satellite system with a ground segment capable of supporting both the national SICRAL 3 and an Allied/NATO SATCOM system, with the latter being capable of using the Italian satellite system with a compatible modem. The overall programme will require an estimated €390M to be funded in different phases. In mid-December, the Italian Space Agency and Italian MoD awarded contracts to an industrial team consisting of Thales Alenia Space and Telespazio for the supply of two additional satellites to complete the COSMO-SkyMed second generation earth observation dual-use constellation with two already operating satellites. Satellite 3 and 4 will be launched and the complete constellation will be operational by 2025.
In the naval domain, the DDP 2020-2022 covers both new programmes and others on the threshold of being launched or contracted. In the scope of the Italian DDX programme, there are plans to launch de-risking studies for the two next generation destroyers to replace the Navy’s two ADMIRAL class units by 2028, based on the assumption that sufficient funding can be provided. Early renderings suggest an 11,000 tonne platform with a Leonardo-provided combat system, including an air and ballistic missile defence system and with MBDA’s TESEO Mk2/E anti-ship/land-attack munition. A future deep-strike weapon system is also under consideration. Last July, on behalf of Italy and France, OCCAR awarded Naviris the feasibility study for the HORIZON destroyers mid-life update programme to extend the lifetime and enhance combat capabilities to include ballistic missile defence (BMD). The Italian Navy will maintain a fleet of 10 FREMMS class frigates after the sale of the last two platforms to Egypt. Fincantieri is expected to begin construction of the two new frigates in 2021.
In December, the Italian MoD’s Naval Armaments Directorate announced the intention to procure through OCCAR the first two U212 Near Future Submarines (NFS) with options for an additional two boats, including in-service technical and logistic support and a training centre. Equipped with a propulsion and combat system with new national industrial content, the contract for the new submarines is expected to be awarded before mid-year. The Navy’s Chief of Staff announced that a future deep-strike missile capability for both surface and underwater platforms is under review by the Italian MoD. The DPP 2020-2022 also unveils plans to fund a second VULCANO-class logistic support ship, which is expected to be delivered in the first quarter of 2021. The same document also confirms a soon-to-be-launched procurement programme for a new Special and Diving Operations Submarine Rescue Ship (SDO-SuRS) to replace the ageing ANTEO. In late December, a national team comprising Saipem and Drass announced the award of a contract from the Naval Armament Directorate for the new generation deployable submarine rescue system to be used by the SDO-SuRS vessel. The DDP 2020-22 also unveils a multi-year procurement programme from 2021 for the New Oceanographic Vessel (NIOM) and two coastal Hydro-Oceanographic Vessels (NIOC) to replace the Navy’s MAGNAGHI and NINFE class vessels of the Navy’s Hydrographic Institute. The Italian MoD is also set to launch initial studies on a new mine countermeasures platform and equipment.
The DDP 2020-22 also includes initial funding to replace the ageing naval bases support vessels fleet while the Italian Navy’s Chief of Staff unveiled the beginning of initial studies for a proposed multi-ministry programme for a hospital ship based on lessons learned during the pandemic and humanitarian operations. The DPP 2020-2022 also confirms the funding for the development phase of the new TESEO Mk2/E Long-Range Anti-Ship/Littoral Attack Missile procurement programme, the contract for which, ESD understands, was awarded late last year. The same document also includes additional funding for the ASTER 30 Block 1NT joint Army/Navy development and procurement programme, the Navy’s life-extension of the ASTER 15/30 in-service munitions, as well as for the development and procurement of new generation radars from Leonardo in the scope of Italian Navy and Army programmes.
Last but not least, the Parliament is on the verge of approving the funding for the full-rate production and procurement of the fully-certified 127 mm VULCANO munitions, the only family of long-range naval guided ammunition available today and able to engage both sea and land targets.