ROME — Italy has confirmed it is ready to supply Ukraine with its Samp-T air defense system after weeks of doubt over Rome’s readiness to hand over the costly kit.
Italy will team with France to send the system to Kyiv, which has issued an urgent appeal for air defense capabilities as Russia bombards Ukraine with missiles and mounts loitering munition attacks.
The dispatching of the system was confirmed to Defense News by a spokesman for Italian foreign minister Antonio Tajani, who announced the decision in an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
“In collaboration with France we are finalizing the dispatch of Samp-T while there are also other initiatives on which we are also working secretly,” Tajani told the newspaper.
Entering into service with the Italian army in 2013, Samp-T is a truck-based tactical antimissile system designed to tackle cruise missiles, manned and unmanned aircraft and tactical ballistic missiles.
In 2016, Italy sent a battery to Turkey as part of a NATO operation to protect the city of Kahramanmaras from the threat of Syrian missile attacks. Italy will collaborate on the dispatch of the system as France is also a Samp-T user.
Italy only has five Samp-T batteries, leading to concerns over the weakening of Italy’s defense capabilities if it supplies one to Ukraine.
This year’s defense budget document contained plans to buy a sixth battery for the army and a further five to protect Air Force assets.
But with just five batteries in service now, analysts speculated Italy might opt for supplying its older, and more abundant Skyguard-Aspide weapon.
“If we give air defense missiles to Ukraine, we must take them from our stocks and we have to do that without depleting them, and being sure about the quality,” Italian defense minister Guido Crosetto told Italian daily Il Messaggero in December.
Asked about Samp-T earlier this month, Tajani told an Italian radio station, “It takes time because there are technical problems to make the instruments work, the military commands are working on this.”
But in his interview on Sunday, he signaled that the transfer was going ahead, claiming it would form part of a sixth package of arms sent by Italy to Ukraine. The first five had been worth €1 billion, he added.
The equipment sent so far has been kept secret although Stinger surface to air missiles, mortars and Milan, or Panzerfaust, anti-tank weapons were reportedly planned for consignment as well as Browning heavy machine guns, MG-type light machine guns and systems for countering improvised explosive devices.
Multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), Pzh2000 howitzers and vehicles have also been dispatched.
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.