Forces: July 17, 2004

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Italy is undergoing a transformation over the next six years, and will turn Italy into a formidable power in the Mediterranean. The Italian Navy is slated to add a second carrier. Originally to be called Andrea Doria, the Italian Navy has renamed it Conte de Cavour. This new carrier will be larger than the current carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi, but it will carry the same sort of air wing (AV-8B+ Harriers possibly to shift to the F-35 V/STOL, and Sea King helicopters which will be replaced by the EH101). The carrier will hold the line until the Garibaldi is upgraded in 2008. Admittedly, this carrier will have a cloud over it (some sailors consider the re-naming of a ship to be a bad omen - with some basis in fact; reference the escort carrier USS St. Lo at Leyte Gulf in 1944). The two Horizon-class frigates (more accurately described as a destroyer) will be named Andrea Doria and Ciao Duilio. These will replace the Ardito and Audace-class destroyers. The Italians are also buying two Type 212 submarines with air-independent propulsion. Upgrades are planned for the Luigi de la Penne-class destroyers as well as four of the eight Maestrale-class frigates. The Lupo-class frigates are being retired.

The Italian Air Force is phasing out its F-104 Starfighters, and replacing them over the short-term with leased F-16C Falcons. These Falcons will then be replaced by the Eurofighter, which will become Italys main air-superiority aircraft. The Eurofighter will be modified to make it suitable for network-centric warfare. As a result, while the Eurofighter will have some precision-guided munitions, the bulk of the air-to-ground work in the early 21st century will be the province of the AMX and Tornado IDS, both of which will receive some upgrades until the F-35 (like the Italian Navys F-35s, they will be the V/STOL variant) starts to replace them in 2014. The Italian Air Force faces serious gaps in airborne early warning, maritime patrol, ELINT/SIGINT, command-and-control, and air-to-ground sensor platforms, however.

The Italian army is moving to close the technological gap separating it from other armies. The plan is to go to an evenly-balanced force of three light brigades, three medium brigades, and three heavy brigades. The medium brigades will be based on the 8x8 Centauro VBC. Italy is looking at the Israeli Spike-ER anti-tank missile as an upgrade for its A129 Mangusta helicopters. The new Mangusats, built to the G15 standard, will also be able to carry the Stinger, adding a potent anti-helicopter and anti-aircraft capability to the Mangusta.

The biggest change, however, is not hardware. Instead, it is Italys shift to an all-volunteer force. The resulting shift will probably more than pay for itself in terms of a higher-quality military force. The price, though, is that more funds have to be spent on compensation and benefits. The question is whether Italy is willing to add the training needed to ensure the quality will be worth the costs.

The Italian shift is going to be worth watching. Italy covers Europes southern flank, and while the Mediterranean Sea has been quiet since the United States shot down two Libyan MiGs in 1989, things could heat up with little notice. Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)


 


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