ROME — Italy will add its own, domestically manufactured components to German Leopard tanks it is buying, possibly including the gun barrel, a senior official at Italian firm Leonardo has told Defense News.

Italy has signed to buy the tanks to fill a capability gap as the Ukraine conflict raises the profile of land war, and aims to assemble the Leopards at a Leonardo assembly line in La Spezia, Italy.

“Under a Letter of Intent signed in December with KNDS there will be a significant ‘Italianisation’ of the Leopard 2 tank to meet Italy’s requirements and provide an industrial and management role for Italy,” said Leonardo’s co-director general, Lorenzo Mariani.

That means a Leonardo-supplied electro-optical sensor, software-defined radio, the command-and-control system and possibly the gun barrel are under evaluation, he said.

The Letter of Intent is part of the alliance announced in December between Leonardo and KNDS which will oversee Italy’s Leopard order of just over 130 combat version Leopard 2 A8 tanks.

KNDS is a consortium of Germany’s Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and France’s Nexter.

Mariani said he also expected Italy’s Iveco and Germany’s Rheinmetall to be somehow involved in the program.

The deal with KNDS also discusses Italian entry into the European Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) – a future tank plotted by France and Germany – as well as a €5 billion ($5.4 billion) Italian program, formerly known as AICS, and now redubbed A2CS, to build up to 1,000 infantry fighting vehicles.

The Italian army has drawn up its requirements list, and Mariani said he expected Italy’s procurement office to request an offer for a feasibility study very soon.

“We think it would be correct to give the request to CIO,” he said, referring to Leonardo’s land vehicles consortium with Italian firm Iveco, which is a major supplier of Italian military vehicles.

“CIO would then involve KNDS and probably other producers who have platforms now on the market. Having in mind as a priority a ‘from scratch’ solution, the urgency expressed by the Army merits considering modification and update of products already available on the market like the KNDS tracked Boxer or the Rheinmetall Lynx or the CV90,” he said. “We will evaluate both the hypothesis of a new product or something which takes an existing platform as a base. But in any case it has to guarantee significant national content, in the context of European cooperation.”

Mariani added, “We hope to get the request by the end of February and would have a proposal ready within 2-3 months.”

Mariani told Defense News a second letter of intent contained in the agreement with KNDS envisaged the joint evaluation with KNDS to set up of a “structural alliance.”

“In our intent it could be based on Europe’s only real joint venture, MBDA, in which stakeholders have placed their missile assets but have the ability to manage their ‘national eyes-only’ assets independently, when needed.”

Prior to being appointed co-director at Leonardo last year, reporting to CEO Roberto Cingolani, Mariani was head of MBDA’s Italy operation from 2020 to 2023.

MBDA has been held up as perhaps the best functioning European joint venture to date, and Mariani listed three factors which have made it a success.

“The first is that there were already programs shared by partners before it was set up, like Aster and Storm Shadow. The second is the firms involved really wanted the venture. You need political will but the industrial desire was key. Without that you cannot do it. And thirdly, the venture created a dominant champion, and success breeds success.”

Mariani added: “The MBDA model is applicable to tanks and in principle also to satellites and space services. In the space sector we have three nations, Italy, France, Germany and three big players - Thales, Airbus and Leonardo. There are already joint programs and one major client: the European Space Agency.”

Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.

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