Giampaolo di Paola is the Italian defense minister. (File)
ROME — Giampaolo di Paola was named Italian defense minister in the government of “technocrats” headed by Mario Monti, which took office after Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi resigned in November 2011. Monti’s government was due to step down by next April to make way for elections, but Monti has said he will resign at the end of this year following his loss of parliamentary support.
Di Paola, a retired admiral, this year has steered a major reform of the Italian armed forces through parliament, which trims 30,000 personnel, including a heavy reduction in senior officers; cuts military bases; and sells ships and land systems. The cuts are an attempt to reflect shrinking defense spending.
After commanding submarines with the Italian Navy, Di Paola rose to become Italy’s procurement chief in 2001 and then head of the General Staff. In 2008, he took over the NATO military committee until he was recalled to Rome by Monti.
Q. What is the scale of Italy’s military reform, and is it comparable to what other nations are doing?
A. This is a big deal, because for the first time we took stock of the reality of the funds available. We asked how can we improve capacity with the resources we have. It is those resources which have driven the reform.
But we are not simply cutting people to buy equipment — we are balancing resources in line with what other allies are doing. NATO and Europe tell us to have flexible expeditionary forces with real capabilities, and as such, quality becomes more important than quantity.
Q. Which Army brigades will be cut, and will we need further decrees to make it happen?
A. We will cut brigades from 11 to around nine, rearranging regiments, cutting the less agile brigades, which have less use in overseas operations. We will focus on medium, mechanized brigades.
We will need three or four further decrees to implement the law, which will need to be passed by parliamentary commissions, which may add recommendations. That will happen after the election, and I believe it is correct that the new government will oversee that.
The decrees will not have details on exactly what platforms are cut; that will be decided further along, depending on what resources are available.
Q. With the manpower cuts, will Italy be able do what it is doing now in the Balkans, Lebanon and Afghanistan?
A. Yes. Only part of our structure can be deployed today, leaving us with overhead.
If we can increase the deployable percentage, if we can have a leaner structure, we can do the same as before — and, I would dare to say, do it even better. We have redundant personnel today. So cutting manpower will not affect the number of personnel we can deploy overseas.
There will also be a 30 percent cut to the number of generals and admirals. Their number is a legacy from when we had a larger, conscript military. The military turned professional, but the number of generals stayed the same. There will also be a strengthening of the General Staff command level.
Q. Under the reform, the military will give up the use of 30 percent of its bases and barracks in Italy. Will that mean cash from sales for military spending?
A. We are talking about hundreds of military properties in Italy, which will be sold off by the Italian government. The value of that property could be a billion euros or more. Most of the proceeds will be used to help pay off Italy’s national debt, with around 30 percent coming back to us, unlike what happened in the U.K. This is a process that will last almost 10 years.
Q. The Navy is planning the sale of naval vessels to other navies as part of the planned cuts. Can you say which navies are possible buyers?
A. We are at an advanced stage in talks to sell Maestrale-class vessels to the Philippines. We are talking to Tunisia about Minerva corvettes and to South American navies about Maestrale vessels. Bangladesh was looking at the same type, but those talks did not reach a result. I am due to visit Vietnam for talks. We have had some early interest from the [Arabian] Gulf area on submarines.
As for the sale of new vessels, we are pursuing Brazil and others. Algeria has purchased a landing platform dock, although for a light frigate, they opted for another country. There is continued interest from Algeria in other vessels, and the country is requesting investment in a shipyard.
Q. Spending on maintenance and operations (M&O) drops in 2013 to 1.33 billion euros, a 50 percent drop from 2008. What are the consequences?
A. The only way to compensate for the dramatic reduction in M&O is to focus resources on the units that we are rotating for deployment. We have been selective and sacrificed the readiness of certain units, trying to retain a nucleus of highly trained and effective forces.
The drop in M&O has really driven the current reform. We have to regain money to put into M&O before procurement. The European Defence Agency tells us that Europe spent, on average, 119,000 euros per soldier in 2010. Italy spends 79,000 euros, so we have a 40 percent gap.
For the money we have, we have too many people and too many structures. I have always said that the first resource we have is the man, but only as long as he is well trained, well equipped. Otherwise, he becomes a liability.
Q. The reduction in M&O spending has forced the armed forces to mothball platforms. How many, and what lies ahead?
A. Right now, around over 50 percent of our Ariete tanks are not in use, and we are deciding what to do. That is the most critical example.
In the next five years, 20 percent of Navy vessels will be on reduced readiness status and considered on sale. We will probably need to cut our platforms across the board by 20 percent.
Q. Italy has sought rapid procurement of force protection equipment to keep troops safe in Afghanistan, from vehicles to gun turrets to anti-IED technologies. How can you get ahead of the curve on force protection? What comes next?
A. Physical force protection is key, meaning lighter, tougher composite materials, but also detection, meaning better aerial surveillance of routes and unmanned vehicles running in front of vehicles to detect threats and take the impact. That is a project we are working on with our NATO and European partners. And better training, which you need to do on the ground.
That is what Afghanistan has taught us. If you do not run operations, you will discover that on the next operation, you are out of the game.
Q. You have said the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) will cost less than the Eurofighter Typhoon. Can you back that up with figures? And will Italy lose work on the JSF because it cut its order from 131 to 90?
A. What I meant was that most of the development costs of the JSF were paid by the U.S. We bore the brunt of the cost of developing the Eurofighter. It is not the single cost of the aircraft I referred to, but the total, including development.
We will not lose work because of the reduction in orders; 131 was an approximate number and we still remain a major buyer, and we have invested. We are the only nation outside the U.S. with a final assembly line, and we are building a central section of the JSF, which will supply U.S. versions.
Q. Despite shrinking budgets, Italy is purchasing an optical satellite and early warning planes from Israel. How far was that pushed by the reciprocal purchase of the M346 trainer jet by Israel?
A. It was very important. We had a requirement and they wanted the M346, and the package was built around this cooperation. We are each spending about the same amount of money. It was a good deal and a smart deal.
Optical satellites have always been a military requirement that we have so far satisfied with the exchange of data with the French, using the Helios satellite. That has not been fully satisfactory, particularly during operations, when we wanted optical data to augment our satellite radar data. We are taking this opportunity.
We want to continue to work in the European framework, but maybe this will allow us to negotiate a better cooperation deal with France as we continue to develop our Cosmo Skymed radar satellite capability.