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Italy Develops, Buys Vehicles Despite Defense Cuts

Sep. 10, 2012 - 05:01AM   |  
By TOM KINGTON   |   Comments
MRAPs, Italian-style: Iveco's VTMM is the basis for the Italian Army's new bombclearing package of Italian-developed vehicles and systems.
MRAPs, Italian-style: Iveco’s VTMM is the basis for the Italian Army’s new bombclearing package of Italian-developed vehicles and systems. (Bradley Peniston / Staff)
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Amid aggressive defense budget cuts underway in Italy, one area of development is proving resilient: vehicle programs.

Italy is planning a new package of IED-clearing vehicles and systems developed by Italian industry for the Army, including ground radar and pushed decoy trolleys. An Army official said the equipment could be deployed in Afghanistan in 2013.

Meanwhile, Italy is pressing on with the acquisition of light multirole vehicles and upgrades to the Centauro wheeled tank.

Vehicle development is faring better than other areas of the Italian defense budget due to their mission. The preamble to this year’s defense budget document outlined the need to trim big-ticket programs such as F-35 joint strike fighters and delay others, but said programs that augment force protection in theater would be a priority.

After relying on vehicles such as the IED-resistant Cougar and Buffalo in Afghanistan, the Army’s new anti-IED package is based on the 18-ton VTMM four-wheel drive vehicle built by Italy’s Iveco. The vehicle — known internationally as the medium protected vehicle — uses pushed and wheeled decoys provided by European missile house MBDA.

This year’s Italian defense budget allocates 120 million euros ($151 million) for the purchase of 40 VTMMs plus logistics, with an option for 40 more, and Iveco is planning to deliver the first vehicle to the Italian Army by year’s end. The vehicles are designed to travel in a group of five, known as a route clearance package, and the first group could be in action in Afghanistan next year, said Col. Enrico Rinaldi, head of the Army’s mobility systems office.

In a typical setup, the leading vehicle pushes a wheeled decoy, dubbed the Calife 3 and supplied by MBDA Italy. The decoy is derived from the Souvim 2 system developed by MBDA in France, which built four prototypes for the French Defense Ministry.

“The Italian military approached MBDA and we proposed adapting the system to the new vehicles,” an MBDA manager said. “The planning of the Calife system is Italo-French,” he added. MBDA’s work in the area derives from its ownership of Matra.

The decoy consists of a trolley extending 3.5 meters ahead of the vehicle, with six wheels and rollers at the front to detonate any pressure-detonated IEDs thanks to the 800-kilogram weight of the trolley. Trip-wire activators extend to the sides and above the trolley, while an infrared activator is designed to set off bombs triggered by the infrared signature of passing vehicles.

The distance between the front of the trolley and the vehicle is considered a safe distance should the decoy trigger an explosion.

A second vehicle in the convoy is designed to push a decoy that carries a ground-penetrating radar supplied by Niitek — the U.S. firm now owned by Chemring — which has already supplied systems to U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Both decoys can be lifted off the road surface to avoid obstacles.

“The five vehicles are designed to work together, although not necessarily in that order,” Rinaldi said. ”It depends on the mission. The radar could go first.”

A third vehicle carries a mounted mechanical arm to dig up identified explosives, while the fourth and fifth will carry a Selex reconnaissance suite with radio and data transmission. They will also be available for troop transport.

“The Italian solution includes command-and-control and intelligence functions, and we may look to further strengthen that function, as well as introducing more robots in the mission,” Rinaldi said.

Vehicles will receive Oto Melara Hitfist turrets with 12.7mm guns and all will be equipped with the Selex Guardian jammer system, officials said.

“The first complete package will be delivered by 2013 and the bulk of deliveries will occur in 2014,” said Flavio Marchesoni, Iveco sales and marketing director.

Italy is operating a leased Maxxpro vehicle with a pushed decoy in Afghanistan.

Iveco, which developed the VTMM with Germany’s Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, also this summer delivered to the Italian Army the first of 12 ambulance format vehicle, which have extra space in the rear compared to the anti-IED versions. All 12 ambulances will be delivered by the end of 2013, Marchesoni said, and the first could be deployed to Afghanistan before the end of 2013.

Other models of the VTMM the Army is mulling include an electronic warfare version, a radio rebroadcasting version and a command post vehicle. An explosive ordnance disposal version that could host a robot for bomb disposals is also being considered, an industrial source said.

Separately, Iveco is due to deliver more than 150 new, 1A version light multirole vehicles (LMVs) to the Army by the end of 2012, part of a total order of 479, bringing the total number of LMVs ordered by Italy to more than 1,800. The vehicle, compared to an uparmored Humvee, has also been sold to the U.K. and other militaries.

While Oto Melara is equipping LMVs with its Hitfist turret, Iveco said it is also supplying a protected ring mount for an alternative, manned roof gun, and is delivering a total of 200 ring mounts in the latest format, with 100 delivered by year’s end.

Iveco and Oto Melara are also working on an upgrade of their wheeled Centauro tank for the Italian Army. A pre-series version, ordered last year under a 46 million euro contract, will be delivered in 2014, an industry official said. It will feature a 120mm gun, unlike the 105mm gun on Italy’s current versions, and offer a new hull incorporating innovations that both companies have used on their Freccia wheeled armored vehicle, as well as a new V-8, 720-horsepower engine, increased protection and full digitalization.

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