ROME — Italian generals are eyeing a cash windfall of €12.8 billion (U.S. $14.9 billion) to cover new Chinooks, drones and missiles. But there is one proviso — the buy could take years, or never arrive at all.
As part of Italy’s complex state financing, this year’s budget contains 10 billion euros for new defense programs and a €2.8 billion top-up for existing programs, all supplied on top of the regular defense budget.
The cash has been earmarked for purchases including four new CH-47F extended range helicopters for Italy’s Special Forces, a longer range version of the under-development Piaggio Hammerhead drone and MBDA CAMM-ER missiles due to replace Italy’s Aspide missile.
That should be enough to please Italy’s often under funded military top brass, but the catch is that the funding is due to be released over 16 years, from 2017 to 2032, and will need a final sign off by the Italian finance ministry, said one analyst.
“It’s not certain to appear since it’s linked to the funds available and also based on a multi-year set-up which means money may not arrive for 15 years, which is too late,” said the analyst, who declined to be named.
The plan was outlined last month to the Italian parliament’s defense commission by General Guglielmo Luigi Miglietta, the head of the Armed Forces General Staff planning and budget department, who said it was aimed at shoring up Italian defense industry jobs and preserving existing programs that might otherwise wither.
Chief among the new programs are the four CH-47 F Extended Range helicopters and the CAMM-ER missiles.
“It is possible that these two programs will sooner or later receive funding in the normal defense budget because of their importance, without waiting for cash from this fund,” said the analyst.
“Boeing would like to sell off the shelf Chinooks to Italy, but Italy’s Leonardo will want a role in production, as it has had a role in the supply of previous Chinooks to Italy,” he added.
General Miglietta said the Aspide program would come to an end in 2021, prompting need for a replacement.
Italy usually announces the breakdown on the year’s regular defense spending by the spring, but has yet to publish details for 2017. With elections due by next May, political sensitivity about potentially vote losing defense spending is likely to increase.
An Italian industrial source said that the special fund contained €800 million for the development of the P.2HH, a new version of the Piaggio P.1HH Hammerhead drone, which is undergoing test flights now.
With a bigger wingspan, the new version would offer up to 30 hours flying time, the source said.
Although Piaggio is now controlled by UAE investment fund Mubadala, the firm employs staff in Italy and the P.1HH is being test flown by the Italian Air Force. It has been ordered by the UAE and Piaggio has previously said the Italian Air Force will buy it, although no order has been formerly announced.
The industrial source said the funding had been agreed by the UAE and former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi.
General Miglietta told parliament that new drone would replace Italy’s Predator UAVs and would not be armed.
The analyst said the P.2HH’s development could face hurdles. “The funding is there as a signal to Mubadala, but the European Euromale is becoming more realistic — it looks like Germany and France may do it this time — and that could reduce the feasibility of the Italian development,” he said.
General Miglietta said that existing programs to benefit from the multi-year funding would include the production of Freccia armoured vehicles to complete a second army brigade and the completion of the Italian Navy’s FREMM frigate program
Funding would also be used for mini-UAV development and a new submarine rescue vessel. The military will use €1.1 billion of the funding to complete its new unified HQ at Centocelle, on the outskirts of Rome. The HQ, dubbed the Italian Pentagon, will bring the Army, Navy and Air Force under one roof, capping a long time ambition by planners to create synergies and joint planning among services which have long guarded their independence.
The move would involve the services vacating their historic headquarters in the center of Rome, said General Miglietta.