Italian industry signs contract for next development phase of 6th generation air system

● Concept, assessment and demonstration activities that will underpin Italy’s participation in the
Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) are now underway
● These will help define the innovative technologies that will deliver a generational leap forward in
national defence capabilities
● The project will generate a positive return for Italy’s national industrial ecosystem, drawing on
SMEs, start-ups, universities and the world of research

Rome, 26 January 2023 – The team of Italian companies that will participate in the development of the new Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) have signed a contract to support the Italian Ministry of Defense in the programme’s new concept & assessment phase and related demonstration activities. The team, which comprises Leonardo – as a strategic partner – and Italy’s leading companies in their respective domains: Elettronica, Avio Aero and MBDA Italia, will progress technology development in support of the GCAP “system of systems” concept, based on sixth-generation combat air platforms operating in multi-domain scenarios.

Industry will collaborate with universities, research centres, SMEs and start-ups, allowing for the exchange of knowledge and growth of skills at a national level, all in close partnership with the Italian Ministry of Defence. The Ministry will be responsible for defining operational needs and directing technological development, drawing on industry support.

Alessandro Profumo, Chief Executive Officer at Leonardo said: “This new phase is a crucial step in the process of identifying and making available the innovative technologies that will ensure our defence capabilities make the necessary generational, technological and operational leap forward, allowing our national enterprise to reach the highest level of excellence and strategic autonomy. As part of the GCAP programme, Italian companies will play a fundamental role in the future of the defence industry at a national and international level. This will take place in a framework of growth that strengthens the operational capacity of our Armed Forces while at the same time generating positive returns including technological, economic and social progress for the entire national ecosystem”.

Enzo Benigni, Chairman and CEO of Elettronica said: “With the launch of this new phase of the GCAP
programme, we are developing a plan for technology and industry that will move Italy’s technology sector from the Typhoon era, the last major European combat air development programme, into a new era of combat air underpinned by sixth-generation capabilities. The wider geopolitical context underlines how vital it is to achieve the right level of readiness, interoperability and availability of technologies. By doing so, we will be prepared to manage any crises that may affect us. Italian industry’s significant role in the GCAP programme will secure a national, European and international legacy, helping to cement the concepts of strategic autonomy and technological sovereignty. Elettronica is ready to contribute and recognises that the objectives that the GCAP programme aims to achieve are also its own”.

Riccardo Procacci, CEO of Avio Aero said: “Today’s challenging geopolitical context requires technological solutions that focus on operational excellence and the ability to adapt to future scenarios. The GCAP programme is responding to this need and will support the requirements of the Armed Forces while guaranteeing strategic autonomy. Avio Aero, as a European company in the propulsion sector and a long-term partner of the Armed Forces, is bringing its capabilities and recognised technological excellence to the programme as well as continuing to invest in the development of innovative technologies with the support and involvement of its network of collaborations with universities, research centers and SMEs”.

Lorenzo Mariani, Executive Group Director Sales and Business Development at MBDA Group and CEO of
MBDA Italia, said: “By participating in the GCAP programme and this second phase of our contract, MBDA Italia and our partners at research centres and SMEs will deploy our collective ability to manage the effectors and related technologies required for the system of systems. These technologies will form the basis of complex systems for national air defence. The ability to counter the most challenging threats will be a key element of the performance of a sixth-generation combat air system”.

In support of the GCAP programme, Italy has already earmarked 6 billion Euros for investment in research and development that will allow for the launch of technology development projects in areas of strategic interest. These will allow Italy’s national industry to participate in the future development phases of the system-of-systems.

The development of a national collaborative work environment, a digital infrastructure underpinned by advanced security, will enable information, services and activities to be shared securely, supporting the subsequent implementation phases via a secure and classified virtual environment. The activation of projects which will deliver technological growth in areas of strategic interest will allow Italy’s national industry to play a substantial role in the development of the system of systems. This activity will be vital in achieving an appropriate level of national sovereignty.

This initiative is also laying the groundwork for further international collaboration in the development of technologies relating to sixth-generation combat air platforms by enhancing Italy’s national industrial competitiveness, its strategic autonomy and the academic and professional skills of current and future generations. In support of this goal, companies have already begun to invest in research, to activate collaborations with universities and to support technology incubators in the innovation sector by promoting the most promising ones nationally and internationally.

Note to editors
Italian activities related to GCAP, the Global Combat Air Programme, officially started in December 2021, with initial funding allocated by the Ministry of Defence. The Ministry launched the “Typhoon-to-GCAP”
technological evolution and transition phase with the support of industry, setting in motion a process of strategic modernization for the nation’s operating resources.

Italy’s national ambition is to develop, through the GCAP programme, a truly innovative model of collaboration between Defence and industry, which could then represent a blueprint for future projects. Taking a system-level approach, the technologies involved range from aeronautics to electronics, from cyberspace to the integrated management of propulsion and power. All of these will be able to leverage technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data analysis, quantum computing, digital twinning and integration between platforms both crewed and uncrewed. The R&D activities of the Ministry of Defence and industry therefore include the study of requirements and solutions necessary to define the overall system, the creation of a technology development plan for a demonstrator that can support the roadmap and technology development & de-risking.

Photo courtesy Leonardo