The Italian defence industry export potential: the Italian NAD view

Paolo Valpolini

On Tuesday April 12th the Italian Secretary General of Defence/National Armaments Director, Lt.Gen. Luciano Portolano was heard by the 4th Senate (Defence) Commission on the Prospects for Italian exports of Defense and Security materials and implementation of the legislation on Government-to-Government (GtoG) relations. It is to note that while the GtoG law dates back to 2013, in fact this scheme could be implemented only since early 2021.

Following a first part dedicated to the general regulatory framework on export control, Lt.Gen Portolano illustrated the regulatory evolution of GtoG agreements, and finally addressed the prospects for the Italian export.

Listing GtoG initiatives already underway he mentioned that with Austria on the Leonardo AW 169 MA (Advanced Multirole) light utility helicopter, which contract for the acquisition of 18 aircraft, worth around 350 million Euro one third of which for training, logistics and infrastructures, was signed on January 12th 2022, the first helicopter delivery being scheduled for December this year. On March 30th a 58 million Euro contract was signed with Slovenia for the acquisition of one Leonardo C27J tactical transport aircraft, which also includes a 32 months training support and a 24 months logistic support.

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With two contracts bagged Italy is however looking at further opportunities, the two first interested nations being the same two which already filed the aforementioned contracts. Italy proposed to Slovenia a participation in the AW-169 programme underway with Austria, the coordination work done between the Italian and Slovenian administration allowing considerable money and time savings. The topic will be investigated in the next semester. Austria has shown interest in extending the cooperation with Italy in the rotary wing sector, with the acquisition of further helicopters for the Ministry of the Interior, in the air defence field, with an upgrade, training and support programme for its Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft, in the unmanned sector both for tactical and operational UAS, in ground-based air surveillance, and finally in pilot’s training, with a participation in the International Flight Training School (IFTS) and with the acquisition of an undisclosed number of Leonardo M-345 turbofan-powered military trainer aircraft.

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Another nation interested in taking part in the IFTS, the collaborative project between the Italian Air Force and Leonardo supported by CAE, is the Slovak Republic; talks are underway to evaluate a possible participation in a jet-based pilots’ training scheme through the IFTS, as well as the acquisition of 10 M-345/M-346 aircraft. The war in Ukraine led to a temporary halt of those talks, priority being given to alert activities.

Talks have been underway for some time with Romania on its participation in a satellite communications programme, the Italian DGA awaiting a positive response in the near future. Technical discussions are ongoing with Bulgaria on the transfer of two decommissioned Italian Navy ship through the industry, no further details being unveiled.

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Two further potential GtoG businesses might come from Latin America, and precisely from Argentina and Brazil. The former is looking for a ship borne naval helicopter, and among the candidates we find Leonardo AW 109SP, while the latter is seeking an armoured car armed with a 105/120 mm gun, the CIO, the consortium made of Iveco DV and Oto Melara, proposing a derivative of its Centauro II. However before being able to start a GtoG acquisition scheme those countries have to down select the Italian-made system.

Widening the scope of his presentation Lt.Gen. Portolano briefly illustrated the main export opportunities for the national defence industry.

Starting from Europe, the signature of the recent Quirinale Agreement between Italy and France should bring to a capability roadmap in the space and naval fields. Italy is cooperating with Sweden and the UK-led Tempest programme for a 6th generation air system. Remaining in the aviation domain, the Swiss decision to opt for the F-35 as its future fighter will see 24 out of 36 such aircraft assembled at the Italian Final Assembly and Check-Out line in Cameri, the same facility where Norway has decided to carry out its maintenance activities of its JSF aircraft.

Shifting to the Middle East, Italy has a strong tie with Israel, a further GtoG agreement being negotiated for the acquisition by Italy of two Gulfstream G550 CAEW aircraft in the AISREW (Airborne Intelligence Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Electronic Warfare) configuration, which might lead to the acquisition by Israel of a further batch of M-346.

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Another key partner is Qatar; following the implementation of the Qatari Navy modernisation programme, which is well underway, Italy is proposing the Iveco DV amphibious 8×8 platform, the SuperAV, as well as a local small arms production.

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Coming to Asia, small arms production lines might also be established in Pakistan, where the main cooperation is focused on naval systems such as coastal surveillance radars, midget submarines, torpedoes and missiles. In June Fincantieri signed a contract for the Indonesian Future Frigate programme, which includes six new FREMMs and two refurbished Maestrale, the country being also a potential market for torpedoes. According to EDR On-Line sources, before activating the contract Indonesia must finalise financing aspects, a solution being expected shortly.

According to the Italian NAD the business with Pakistan might also extend into the air domain. Another country where cooperation is focused on naval issues, and more precisely frigates, is Japan, the Italian defence industry aiming at providing sub-systems for those ships.

On the American continent, ties between Italy and the United States are pretty strong. While Italy filed major contracts for fixed wing aircraft, fighters and air refuellers, to the US, the latter Navy and Air Forces ordered respectively the AW119 Tracker and the AW139 helicopters, the US Marine Corps currently receiving its ACVs manufactured in the US by BAE Systems on a baseline 8×8 vehicle designed by Iveco DV, while Littoral Combat Ships are being produced by Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyard.

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The other main partner in America is Brazil, which apart from the aforementioned armoured car programme, expressed an interest in the Cosmo SkyMed earth-observation satellite space-based radar system as well as on a cooperation in the communications satellite field. In the long term an interest might be expressed for the M-346 training aircraft, including pilots’ training by the Italian Air Force, as well as for the A119 helicopter.

Algeria is currently the major potential customer in the African continent. Here Leonardo created a joint venture with the local Ministry of Defense that will assembly 100 helicopters of three models, AAW169, AW139 and AW149, 75 for the Algerian market and 25 for export, a first launch contract for seven aircraft being expected soon in order to ensure the plant sustainability for two years.

Photos courtesy Italian Army, Italian Air Force, CIO, Fincantieri, Leonardo, Thales Alenia Space