The Italian Army is ready to increase quality and quantity of its main battle tanks

Paolo Valpolini

Considering the geopolitical situation in Europe, the Italian Army is ready to reinforce its heavy brigades, providing them with higher numbers of main battle tanks while also improving their quality

Following the end of the Cold War the Italian Army shifted the focus from heavy to medium formations, wheels being considered a better solution for operations other than war  in which Italy land forces were involved. The Italian Army was farfrom being the only one in Europe to do so, some armies having scrapped main battle tanks (MBTs) from their inventories. Italy maintained two heavy brigades, the “Ariete” armoured one in north-eastern Italy, with two tank regiments, and the “Garibaldi” mechanised one in southern Italy, with one tank regiment.

According to current T/O&Es [1] those regiments field 41 Ariete MBTs each, as they are organised on three tank companies, each with 13 MBTs, the two remaining being those of the battalion and regiment commanders. The Italian Army can therefore count on a total of 123 Ariete MBTs, but this will soon change. Under NATO request Italian Army  tank regiments, the 32nd and 132nd part of the “Ariete” Brigade and the 4th of the “Garibaldi”, will receive one more company each, which will bring the total number of MBTs per unit up to 54. Not only, the Army also decided to form a new mechanised brigade; although no firm decision has yet been taken, the only formation that might be earmarked for that transformation is the “Sassari” Brigade, which is stationed in Sardinia. This brigde currently fields three infantry regiments, one of which might be transformed into a tank element. Southern Sardinia being also hosts the main Army exercise area and firing range, at Capo Teulada, where armoured formations rotationally go for training. This newly formed regiment will add a further tank regiment to the count, bringing the total number of tanks to 216, which means a 64% increase compared to current numbers.

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While quantity will considerably increase, quality will also consistently improve. The first step is the upgrade of the Ariete MBT; the original version, known as C1, has always be considered underpowered, as its powerpack is based on an Iveco V-12 MTCA engine providing 1,300 hp. The adoption of the new 1,500 hp V-12 turbocharged intercooled engine with common rail injection will allow improving mobility, the maximum gross vehicle weight when fitted with mine-protection (MPK) and peace-support operations (PSO) kits being 62.5 tonnes, compared to the original 54 tonnes of the C1 base configuration. As for protection a new add-on armour package should have been developed, while MPK and PSO kits should have been maintained. The turret will also be totally refurbished, hydraulics being replaced by electric actuators, which increase safety, together with the new fire-fighting and anti-explosion systems adopted. Combat effectiveness is increased due to the adoption of a new fire control system fitted with a new ballistic computer, and also including new full-digital sights for the commander and gunner, respectively the Attila-D and the Lothar-SD, both fitted with 3rd generation thermal cameras. These are provided by Leonardo, as well as the software-defined radios, the Ariete C2 being also fitted with SATCOM capability, the comms suite allowing it to fully exploit the Italian Army networking capability.

On 2 August 2023 the Italian Ministry of Defence awarded a contract to the CIO, the consortium formed by IDV and Leonardo (originally by Iveco DV and Oto Melara hence the acronym) for the upgrade of 90 of the 200 Ariete MBTs produced in the mid 1990s, with an option for 35 more. It is clear that this will be exercised in due time considering that 108 MBTs are needed to fill up the T/O&Es of two tank regiments. According to information gathered by EDR On-Line the upgraded version, is in advanced qualification testing, but the process has not yet been fully completed. Although no information were released, the MLU work on the tanks should start once the C2 version will be fully qualified. First deliveries will depend on qualification an estimate being 2025, the Ariete C2 being delivered to the two regiments forming the 132nd “Ariete” Armoured Brigade.

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Talks have been ongoing for some time between KNDS/Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, the Italian Army, the Armaments General Directorate and the Ministry of Defence for the acquisition of 125 Leopard 2A8. EDR On-Line understands that a contract might be signed before year-end, the key issued being the involvement of the Italian defence industry and the level of “italianisation” of these MBTs. Communications and command and control systems will definitely be provided by Italian companies and will be in line with those in use on Army armoured vehicles, while optronics might also be part of the package.

Once the Leopard 2A8s will start being delivered to Italy, these will go to the “Ariete” Brigade, which will pass its Ariete C2 first to the 4th Tank Regiment part of the “Garibaldi” Brigade, the remaining going to the still to be formed tank regiment of the “Sassari” Brigade. At that point the Italian Army will field 216 main battle tanks, that will be flanked by the new AICS (Armoured Infantry Combat System) which development programme has just started.

[1] Table of Organization and Equipment

Photos courtesy Italian Ary and KNDS/KMW