ROME — Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has vowed to drop Italy’s traditional reticence about discussing defense spending and boost budgets as her generals demand more weapons and personnel.
Addressing the Italian senate this week, Meloni said: “We have never hidden the fact we want to increase military spending, just as previous governments have done albeit on the sly without coming clean.”
She added, “We will do it, convinced that respecting commitments is vital to protecting national sovereignty and credibility.”
Meloni, whose right-wing government took office last year, appeared to be targeting the Five Star party, which oversaw defense budget hikes during its time as a partner in three government coalitions between 2018 and 2022 even as it criticized military spending.
Previous Italian governments have traditionally kept quiet about military spending to avoid criticism from the Catholic Church.
Last month, Meloni’s defense minister, Guido Crosetto, said Italy was aiming to reach the defense spending target of 2% of GDP set down by NATO, which has reported Italy’s current total equals 1.51%.
“Freedom has a price and if you are not able to defend yourself, someone else will do it for you, but will not do it for free. They will impose their interests, even if they differ from yours, and I don’t think this was ever good business for anyone,” Meloni told parliament.
Italy budgeted €7.85 billion ($8.5 billion) for defense procurement in 2022, up from €6.76 billion in 2021, which in turn was up from €5.45 billion in 2020.
Meloni’s speech in parliament followed a series of appearances before a parliamentary defense committee by the heads of Italy’s armed forces, who said they were understaffed and underequipped.
Air force chief Gen. Luca Goretti said he wanted 41 extra F-35 fighters, taking Italy’s planned total from 90 jets back up to the 131 aircraft planners originally sought before the order was trimmed in 2012.
Navy chief Adm. Enrico Credendino told lawmakers his force lacked drones and submarine-spotting aircraft, complaining that “When we need one we ask the U.S. to use one of those it has stationed at Sigonella,” referring to the U.S. naval base on the Italian island of Sicily.
The admiral also said that Italian naval performance was hampered by a lack of personnel, claiming that while France provided each of its FREMM frigates with two rotating crews, “We cannot guarantee one full crew for any of our FREMMs,” he said.
Italy’s national armaments director Gen. Luciano Portolano said this month the army could be in line for tank and fighting vehicle gap fillers to make up for chronic shortfalls.
During his speech to the parliamentary committee, army chief Gen. Pietro Serino said the HIMARS rocket launcher, used to devastating effect by Ukraine against Russian invaders, was on his shopping list.
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.