ROME -- The Italian army is a step closer to acquiring new tanks and assault helicopters after plans for the purchases were submitted for parliamentary approval.
On Oct. 11 the defense commission of the lower house of the Italian parliament began debating plans by the Italian military to buy the Centauro II tank and an updated version of its A-129 Mangusta helicopter.
The Centauro II is a wheeled tank which boasts improvements on the Centauro tank already in service with the Italian army.
The commission, which has until November 8 to offer an opinion on the purchases, was once just a rubber-stamping operation for military investments, but under 2012 legislation was given more influence over acquisition.
Documents submitted to parliament, which have been seen by Defense News, propose the purchase of a first tranche of 11 pre-series Centauro II tanks and 39 production vehicles, along with 10 years of logistics service.
The 530 million euro order is scheduled to be concluded by 2023.
Built by a joint venture of Italian firms Leonardo-Finmeccanica and Iveco, the Centauro II has superior armor to the first Centauro, a 120mm gun (compared to the 105mm gun on the original) and a more powerful, 720 horsepower engine.
The tank will carry one crew member in the hull and three in the turret.
The Italian army is meanwhile building up its fleet of Freccia, or VBM, armored vehicles, which will form the basis of new brigades and which first entered service in 2009 before being deployed to Afghanistan.
The documents submitted to parliament said the original Centauro was too old to operate alongside the Freccia — which is designed with net-centric operations in mind — "because it does not have the same minimum requirements for safety, force protection, technology and interoperability."
The document said it was "too early" to predict the export market for the new Centauro tank, but said "the good results obtained by the Centauro now in service are encouraging."
Eighty-four original Centauros were sold to Spain and nine to Oman, while 141 surplus Italian vehicles were acquired by Jordan.
The new tank order was accompanied in the purchase request by a plan for the launch of a new "Exploration and Escort Helicopter" program, which will see the development of a replacement for Italy's army A129 Mangusta helicopter, which will start to be retired from service in 2020.
Built by Italy's AgustaWestland, now known by the name Leonardo-Finmeccanica, the Mangusta first entered service during Italy's
1990s peacekeeping mission in Somalia.
For 487 million euros, the armed forces plan to get a prototype, three pre-series aircraft and one initial operating capability-level aircraft,
as well as the later upgrade of the three pre-series versions to IOC level, all by 2025.
Designed to fly three-hour missions, the new aircraft will offer a 20mm cannon, 70mm rockets and Spike air-to-ground missiles, with a 1,400 kg payload that may rise to 1,600 kg, according to the documents.
The new Mangusta would also feature satellite communications and Link 16.
In a planning document issued in 2015, the Army said it wanted a new Mangusta to be able to control UAVs and be able to operate better in hot and high conditions.
Planned to be a viable assault helicopter for the next 30 years, the new model would have performance and payloads "decisively superior" to the current Mangusta and be at least as good as "the best performing helicopters in its category", the new document stated.
The Army currently has 48 Mangustas flying, of which 32 have been upgraded from the original spec, while 16 are used for training. The
helicopter was flown in Afghanistan, and a spin-off, the T-129, was developed for service with Turkey.
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.