May 20, 2013
After decades of nurturing its indigenous industry back from the devastation of World War II, the Italian defense ministry is adopting a tough-love approach to sharpen its local aerospace sector for the competitive world stage.
The reduction of defense spending globally is the impetus for the Italian military's new approach of forcing industry to hone its skills and become more competitive, says Italy's chief weapons buyer and industrial policy maker.
Finmeccanica and its aviation arm, Alenia Aermacchi, are the primary targets of the approach, according to Air Force Lt. Gen. Claudio Debertolis, Italy's secretary general of defense and national armaments director. “Alenia was used to being protected, to having a guaranteed profit,” in the past, Debertolis tells Aviation Week. “Now, for the future, they need to be more competitive.” He and other Italian military officials emphasize that they aim to keep as many Italians employed in the aviation sector as possible. But they are also pushing to secure more advanced work in areas such as unmanned aircraft and composites (see story below).
This is the case for work supporting the American-led Joint Strike Fighter as well as smaller programs, Debertolis says. And gone are the days when the Italian military will simply take equipment designed and built by its industry without a firm requirement, he says.
Debertolis cites two examples. First, the Italian air force has purchased the U.S.-made General Atomics MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial systems to support forces in Afghanistan. These procurements were in response to urgent needs, not allowing time for Italy's industry to compete. And General Atomics, a notoriously introverted company, abruptly declined any chance for Italian industry to participate in work out of the deal.
Second, Italy's army recently selected AAI Corp.'s RQ-7 Shadow 200 tactical unmanned aircraft over an Italian option to fill an urgent need. The army will purchase four systems for €51 million ($66 million), says Lt. Col. Antonio Zuliani, Debertolis's public affairs chief. Shadow won over Finmeccanica's Selex Galileo Falco. “There is no way, for industrial reasons, we will change the requirement,” Debertolis says.
The systems are to be delivered by year-end, as soon as testing is complete, Zuliani says. Because they were so quickly needed in Afghanistan, Italy did not insist on industrial participation. Debertolis says that only a couple of decades ago, a decision such as this one would have been subject to political whim, possibly delaying the delivery of equipment to the front. “Now there is no more of that,” he says.