ROME – Italy is planning to buy up to eight new Gulfstream signals intelligence aircraft and build a maintenance hub for similar aircraft operated by other nations around the Mediterranean.

The plans, which were outlined in documents supplied to the Italian parliament, would reinforce Italy’s signals intelligence capability as the Mediterranean becomes a flashpoint for regional tensions with neighbors like Turkey and Egypt tussling over the future of lawless Libya.

The Italian acquisition was first mentioned in this year’s budget document, released in October, which cited the need for ‘multi-mission, multi-sensor’ Gulfstream G-550 jets and listed an outlay of 1.23 billion euros.

An illustration of the aircraft in the document resembled Israel’s ‘Shavit’ Signals Intelligence Gulfstream, while the required capabilities listed included command and control, “electronic superiority” and “electronic protection of forces.”

Now, the government has sent parliament a second document giving more details of the plan ahead of a vote by the parliamentary defense commission on the purchase.

The document calls for the purchase of two aircraft which have already been converted for Sigint missions and equipped with the required systems before the purchase of a further six G-550 jets ready for subsequent conversion.

Analysts have suggested the need to buy the unconverted aircraft quickly is due to the Gulftstream G550 going out of production.

The aircraft would be based at the Italian Air Force’s Pratica di Mare base south of Rome, which is already home to the two Gulfstream 550 Conformal Airborne Early Warning aircraft Italy purchased from Israel’s IAI in 2012.

With up to 10 G-550s in its fleet, Italy would build up a maintenance operation which would not only serve its own aircraft but be able to “offer services to the Gulfstream fleet operating in Europe and the Middle East, with about 200 jobs created,” the document stated.

No indication was given about which company would be contracted to supply the two converted jets or carry out the conversion work on the other six, but the document stated that “given the complexity” of the program, a non-Italian contractor would be brought in. National offset work would be sought the document stated.

Funding for the buy is due to kick off next year and will stretch out to 2056 stated the document, which has been seen by Defense News.

Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.

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