ROME — Italy’s prime minister has ruled out the dispatch of Italian fighter jets to Ukraine for now, ending days of speculation Rome could send its aging AMX aircraft to help combat Russia’s invasion.
“At the moment the supply of planes is not on the table,” Giorgia Meloni said at a news conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a visit to Kyiv. She added that any decision would be made “in consultation with international partners.”
Her comments followed reports in Italy that Rome was mulling the supply of jets after Zelenskyy last month appealed to European leaders for fighters as Russia reportedly prepares for new offensives in Ukraine.
Built by Alenia Aeronautica, now part of Italy’s Leonardo and Brazil’s Embraer, the AMX ground-attack fighter was supplied to Italy and Brazil, with the Italian Air Force taking delivery of 135 jets from 1989.
The aircraft saw service with Italy in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo in the 1990s, Libya in 2011, as well as Afghanistan. The F-35 is now replacing the AMX for Italy.
Press speculation the jets could be sent to Ukraine instead of the junkyard was bolstered on Tuesday when a Italian junior foreign minister, Edmondo Cirielli, told Rome newspaper Il Messaggero: “A dialogue about the AMX could be started — we will listen to Ukraine’s request.”
Ahead of her meeting with Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Tuesday, Meloni said: “We will ask him what more we can do to lend a hand.”
But hours later she said fighters were not an option, a decision backed by two Italian experts.
“One group of AMXs has been upgraded and would be suitable, but those are the aircraft Italy still needs,” said Vincenzo Camporini, a former head of the Italian military and an analyst at the IAI think tank in Rome.
“The non-upgraded aircraft would be possible, but the time and the cost to upgrade them to make them interoperable with today’s weaponry makes the idea unpractical and too costly,” he added.
Leonardo Tricarico, the president of the ICSA think tank and a former Italian Air Force chief, agreed.
“The need for training and logistics for an aircraft that only Italy has would mean a huge commitment for a modest flight line,” he said.
Given the fighter is limited to a ground-attack role, Tricarico said the more versatile F-16 would be a better target for Zelenskyy, given it also has air-to-air capabilities and could deliver heavier bombs.
“Additionally, many air forces use the F-16,” he added.
Instead, Italy is “within weeks” of sending a SAMP/T air defense battery to Ukraine, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani told local daily La Stampa on Tuesday.
During her visit to Ukraine, Meloni was keen to show Italy’s support for the country after she was embarrassed last week by a stout defense of Russia delivered by one of her coalition allies, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
A longtime friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Berlusconi blamed Zelenskyy for provoking Russia’s invasion.
Speaking alongside Meloni in Kyiv on Tuesday, Zelenskyy said: “Mr. Berlusconi, it seems to me, has never had his house bombarded with missiles every day. And thank God his partner from the Russian Federation didn’t drive a tank into his house and destroy his relatives and close ones.”
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.