ROME - Italy’s army, navy and air force will be forced to talk to each other more often thanks to legislation proposed by the Italian government, which promises an all-round shakeup of the armed forces.
The new bill, which will be submitted to parliament for approval, seeks to end what the government described as “jealousies and rivalries,”
between the forces “that have created unsustainable and costly duplications over time.”
The measures are based on the findings of a defense White Paper released in 2015, which was the first such paper issued in Italy since 2002 and sought to remodel the Italian armed forces to face new threats and smaller budgets.
At the time of the release of the White Paper, officials said new legislation would be required to turn its recommendations into law and
after a two year-wait, the bill was announced on Feb. 10.
Italy defense minister Roberta Pinotti said the aim of the law was making Italy’s armed forces more “modern and efficient” and was based on three years of study that used contributions from “experts, think tanks, universities, research centres, NGOs and the Italian parliament.”
Top of the list in the bill is the beefing-up of the powers of the chief of staff, who oversees the three armed forces.
Given the job of finding synergies between the forces and reducing overlaps, recent chiefs of staff have struggled with service chiefs who
continued to defend their autonomy and spending powers, even as joint operations become the norm.
“The new law will make the chief of staff the real head of the armed forces and genuinely cut back the autonomy of the service chiefs,” said
a source who worked on the White Paper but declined to be named.
The mandate for the top job will also be extended from two to three years, and candidates will be selected from any of the forces by the
minister of defense, ending the current practice of giving the job to the head of the air force, army and navy in strict rotation.
All military promotions, from the rank of colonel up, will be decided by inter-force committees rather than officials from the individual service
in which the promotion is taking place, the bill states.
“This makes promotions across the services more homogeneous, enforces an inter-force mentality and should result in extra value being placed on officers with inter-force experience,” said the source.
A new role will be given to a National Armaments Director who will oversee logistics across the three services. The director “will follow
the life cycle of equipment right from the R&D phase to the end of life,” said the source.
The Italian MOD said the role could be taken by a military officer or a civilian, “as in all the major European countries.”
Turning to procurement, the bill institutes six-year funding laws to introduce greater certainty to defense acquisitions for military planners and industry.
Every six years, parliament will vote on a six year budget, with a second vote after three years to cover adjustments and updates to the plan.
“In recent years, individual procurements like the Centauro II wheeled tank and the new assault helicopter have been proposed for approval in parliament one by one, without a cohesive vision,” said the source.
Another problem tackled by the bill is the rapid ageing of Italy’s military personnel, who generally sign up for life. Copying the US system, the legislation envisages the recruiting of more young soldiers for a fixed term, before they are helped to find work.
Pinotti said 82 percent of current military personnel had full-time contracts, while only 18 percent had fixed-term contracts, and the
average age of personnel was 38. Under the new law, she said, the percentage of personnel on fixed-term contracts would rise to 40 percent.
The source admitted that given the complexity of the bill it was unlikely to be passed and made law before the next general election in
Italy, which could be as early as June and as late as early next year.
In 2015 the White Paper set out Italy’s strategic vision for the future, stating it required a full spectrum of capabilities for use in the
Mediterranean region, where it needed to maintain military supremacy, while sticking to coalition roles based on “plug and play” capabilities
outside the region.
At the time, it was stated that generals would take those guidelines and spend six months drawing up a strategic review, which would set out the amount and type of planes, vehicles and weaponry required to carry out the White Paper’s strategic scenario.
The review was also set to conclusively define how many F-35 aircraft Italy would buy — a delicate issue given political opposition to the
program in Italy.
But two years on, no strategic review has been released, a delay the source attributed to “scenarios changing so fast.”