ROME – Italian politicians are working hard this month to sign off on a stream of new procurement plans including naval destroyers and amphibious vehicles as Italy’s booming defense budget fuels a military shopping spree.
Top of the list are two 10,000 tonne DDX destroyers with a total price tag of 2.7 billion euros ($3bn), followed by 64 new amphibious vehicles and 347 VTMM 2 armored vehicles for the army.
The rush of approvals being given by the defense committees of the lower house and senate of the Italian parliament follow a series of bumper defense budgets culminating in last year’s 6.76 billion euros ($7.66bn) procurement spend, up 24 percent on the previous year.
At the end of last year, the committees signed off on a 1.4 billion euro ($1.59) spend on upgrades for Italy’s four B767 tankers as well as the purchase of two extra aircraft, taking the Air Force’s tanker-transport fleet to six.
Money was also freed up for the conversion of six already purchased, basic Gulfstream G550 aircraft for early warning or signals intelligence missions, while 80 million euros ($90m) is to be spent over five years on the special forces “Praetorian” version of the C-27J tactical transport aircraft.
Nearly four million euros ($4.5m) was also approved to supply Italy’s special forces with loitering munitions, while the army will receive more VTLM 2 vehicles, among other programs.
The approvals handed down by parliament do not mean the total costs of the procurements will be freed up immediately – it merely allows the defense ministry to start allocated tranches of payments for new programs that may be paid off over years.
But the numerous requests for approvals from parliament does reflect confidence by ministry planners that budgets will remain buoyant.
What is driving the rise in spending drew various explanations from analysts.
“The rise reflects the growing competition in the Mediterranean and the reduced presence of the U.S. in the region,” said Germano Dottori, a scientific advisor to Limes, an Italian geopolitical publication.
He added that a watershed moment came in October when Gen. Enzo Vecciarelli, the outgoing military chief of staff, addressed the Italian parliament.
“He said Italy needed to be ready to carry out autonomous operations as well as joint operations with other nations, and that was a new thing for Italy,” said Dottori.
“But the rise is also due to the growing attention paid to the profile of Italy’s domestic defense industry and to Italy’s technological autonomy,” he added.
Alessandro Marrone, the head of defense programs at Rome think tank IAI, said it had helped having the same defense minister in office for three years.
Lorenzo Guerini was appointed in 2019 by then-prime minister Giuseppe Conte, but was reappointed by Mario Draghi, who formed a new government at the start of last year.
“Guerini has had time to articulate and implement a vision which recognizes international tensions and he has pushed the military to invest in systems for high end scenarios,” he said.
Rising budgets had proved resistant to two years of increased health care spending during Covid, he added. “That allowed procurement officials to launch programs with mid and long term horizons,” he said.
A note of caution was sounded by Michele Nones, vice president at IAI, who pointed out that the bulk of the defense cash was being spent on domestic programs.
“There is a push throughout Europe towards domestic programs to help boost home economies and to respond quickly to requirements that have been held up for too long,” he said.
“That has led to a drop in joint European programs, which could harm interoperability,” he added.
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.