ROME — The head of the cash-strapped Italian Army has demanded more long-term procurement funding rather than Italy’s usual, haphazard defense budgeting for his service as a likely Army deployment to Libya draws closer.
Gen. Danilo Errico said he was pushing for spending plans spanning 18 years for the Army, up from Italy’s current three-year budgets, to allow it to map out long-term investments confidently, without fearing the loss of funds from year to year.
The Army has watched with a touch of envy as the Navy booked a €5.4 billion (US $5.9 billion) euro windfall from the government in 2015 for fleet renewal, while the Air Force moves ahead with F-35 procurement, albeit at a slower rate than it would like.
Speaking at a conference in Rome about the future of the Army on Jan. 12, Errico said pointed out that his service was responsible for 75 percent of Italy’s military interventions since World War II, with the Navy and the Air Force covering the other quarter.
As budgets have plunged in Italy over the last decade, procurement has slowed and maintenance and operations spending for all services has crippled readiness across at all branches of the armed forces. But the Army will be particularly anxious over missing spare parts and slashed training given the likelihood of a deployment to Libya.
As two rival governments in the lawless North African country edge toward a political settlement, some Libyan officials have said they could invite foreign peacekeepers to the country, albeit only to offer security training for sensitive sites, rather than combat.
Italy is keen to lead the mission, particularly if it heads off French ambitions in the country. To win over hearts and minds in Libya, the Italian Air Force flew a C-130J to Misrata in Libya on Jan. 11 to pick up 15 victims wounded by an ISIS truck bomb that killed at least 47 people the week before.
Speaking alongside Gen. Errico on Jan. 12, the heads of Italian firms Finmeccanica, Iveco, Beretta and Aero Sekur — all regular suppliers of the Army — voiced their support for spending budget plans able to sidestep the vagaries vicariousness of Italian state budgets.
Errico's 18-year ambition goes well beyond the plan for six-year budgets that may be implemented this year after they were proposed in 2015 in a new defense white paper, Italy's first in 13 years.
Italy recently shifted from annual budgets to three-year budget plans to give certainty to funding, but the spending projections on which the budgets are based have too often been rendered meaningless by unforeseen cuts.
It is unclear how six- or even 18-year budgets could avoid the same fate.
Speaking at the conference, Nicola La Torre, the head of the Italian Senate’s defense commission, proposed going one step further. He said the Army should get multiyear funding for urgent programs in one go, just as the Navy received its €5.4 billion euro lump sum last year.
That could be wishful thinking. The so-called Naval Law was approved by parliament thanks to canny lobbying by the head of the Navy and by the focusing of politicians’ attention on the need to save thousands of migrants sailing across the Mediterranean from North Africa. Some 154,000 sailed last year, just as the Navy was due to retire a large part of its fleet.
An idea of how what the Army would like to spend fresh funds on will be given in a Strategic Defense Review, which is set to be published this year. Based on the white paper’s doctrinal vision of the future, which calls for Italian military predominance in the Mediterranean, the Strategic review is supposed to outline what assets will be required to carry out that doctrine.
One Italian source said the review was currently sitting in the in-tray of the Italian defense minister, awaiting a sign off.
The Army gave an early idea of what kit it wanted in February 2015, in its own strategy paper.
New vehicles were high on the list, and on Jan. 12 Gen. Errico called for the digitalization of communications in existing vehicles.
The document also calls for new helicopters and aircraft, both manned and unmanned. Army planners want a new version of the long-serving AW129 Mangusta attack helicopter that would be more net-centric and able to control UAVs, as well as able to operate better in hot and high conditions.
Meanwhile, the Army is downsizing from 103,000 to 90,000 personnel and from 11 to nine brigades.
"A so-called Army Law, to mirror the recent Naval Law, would be the best way to increase certainty that funds would arrive to back certain key programs over a fixed period of time," said Francesco Tosato, the head of the military affairs desk at the Rome-based CESI think tank, which organized the Rome conference.
"The 'stop and go' funding that Italy has provided for the military until now hurts programs from an industrial and operational point of view," he added.