Italian Airpower Modernization: A Discussion with the Editor of Rivista Italiana Difesa


2015-10-07  By Robbin Laird

During my recent trip to Italy, I had a chance to discuss with senior Italian Air Force officers the way ahead with regard to Italian airpower.

The Italians, like the British, are undergoing a double transition, whereby the Eurofighter is being modernized in two ways: namely, subsuming air-to-ground missions and facilitating the transition in the replacement of the Tornado by adding a new AESA radar to the airplane, and introducing the F-35 to help shape joint force transformation.

For Lt. General Preziosa, the close relationship with the RAF was important in working through the way ahead with regard both to Eurofighter modernization and working with the F-35.

“There is no point in having to repeat lessons which have been learned by one Air Force or the other.”

In the Italian case, the new Cameri facility is a key element for the Italian Air Force, Located on an Italian Air Force base used for logistics, the Italian government under the management of Alenia Aermacchi (AAeM) has built a 22 building facility to support the F-35 program.

The support comes in three parts.

First, there is a Final Check Out and Assembly facility, where there is the possibility for assembling Italy’s As and Bs, as well as other European F-35 partners, initially the Netherlands.

Second, there is a wing construction facility with Italy building a minimum of 835 full wings for the F-35 global program. The first wing has already been installed on a USAF F-35.

Third, with the 22 buildings of more than a million square feet of covered work space comes significant space to build out support for F-35s operated by the US and allies in Europe.

Pietro Batacchi onboard an Osprey in transit to the USS Wasp for the F-35B ship integration trials, May 2015. Credit: Second Line of Defense
Pietro Batacchi onboard an Osprey in transit to the USS Wasp for the F-35B ship integration trials, May 2015. Credit: Second Line of Defense

With the Mediterranean and the Middle East as a busy operational area, the Cameri facility can provide significant operational support to the F-35 fleet operating in the area.

In fact, Italian industry is well positioned as a member of the Eurofighter consortium, the F-35 global enterprise, and the builder of a new trainer aircraft and related training facilities.

The industrial base is well positioned to support 21st century air operations.

During my time in Italy, RID, a strategic partner of Second Line of Defense, published a significant overview on the F-35 and its capabilities and contributions to 21st century airpower.

It is one of the most comprehensive and constructive looks at the airplane, notably as a fleet, which exists in any language.

Question: You are the editor of RID

Could you describe the focus of your magazine and your background as well?

Pietro Batacchi: Rivista Italiana Difesa is the leading Defense magazine in Italy and one of the most important in Europe.

It deals with the full spectrum of Defense issues and is well established in Italian Defense community after 33 years of editorial activity.

Regarding myself, I have a degree in political science. After the University I attended a Strategic Study Advanced Course at the Defense High Studies Center in Rome and then I got a PHD in International Relations.

Question: From your vantage point, you are in a good position to describe Italian, European and global military aerospace trends. 

I would now like to talk about some of those trends and your take on them. I note that your magazine has just published a Special Report on the F-35.

And we met while flying on an Osprey to observe the F-35 trials aboard the USS Wasp last May.

What are the major findings and conclusions of your Special Report?

Pietro Batacchi: The main finding of my study on the F-35 was very simple.

The F-35 provides the Italian military with a strategic instrument/aircraft able to penetrate not only permissive but disputed airspace thanks to its low observability or to ensure greater operational flexibility allowed by its “net-centric” and open architecture.

In addition we can talk about the great internal fuel capability that offers to the aircraft an enormous autonomy and operation persistence, much greater than the ones normally experienced by a fighter aircraft.

Due to all these reasons the aircraft manufactured by Lockheed Martin gives to the political leaders the opportunity to join a conflict from the very early stages, with a clear political and strategic return, and to increase their diplomatic options.

Question: For both the UK and Italy, the shaping of a 21st century air combat force is being built around the introduction of the F-35 twined with the modernization of the Eurofighter and both the RAF and the IAF are working with each other to shape a path forward.

 How would describe the role of Eurofighter modernization and its interaction with the coming of the F-35 fleet?

Pietro Batacchi: The modernization of the Eurofighter can be considered incremental.

The aircraft was born as a pure air superiority fighter designed to deal with the threats of the Russian aircraft during the Cold War.

Over the years the requirements have been changed and today, thanks, for example, to the Phase 1 Enhancement Program (P1E), the Eurofighter Typhoon has evolved in a modern swing role aircraft able to find and attack ground targets.

This evolution process will continue with P2E, including the integration of the Meteor and Storm Shadow missiles, and with the integration of the CAPTOR-E AESA radar in the next years that will definitively complete the growth of the aircraft.

Ultimately, the two aircraft can be considered highly complementary and perfectly tailored to a military more and more expeditionary and projection oriented as the Italian one.

After all, when the Italian Defence White Paper talks about a “Regional Full Spectrum” military, it means a military able to intervene in all the Mediterranean scenario also in high intensity conflicts under which both F-35 and Eurofighter Typhoon are best suited if employed together.

Question: And the Eurofighter recently has seen a success in the sale of aircraft to Kuwait. 

The agreement was negotiated by the Italian government. 

The Italian Air Force has operated frequently from Kuwait.

What role do you see the IAF’s impact on Kuwait might have had on the Kuwaiti decision?

Pietro Batacchi: The Italian Air Force and Ministry of Defense in general had a great role during the bargaining bringing to the successful outcome of the Kuwait’s campaign.

As Italian Defense industry can confirm the Italian Defense was very important in providing it with a great support and exploiting the channels with Kuwait opened since the first Gulf War in 1991 joined also by the Italian military and Air Force.

Question: From an industrial point of view, the modernization of a legacy asset like Eurofighter along with the innovations driven by shaping a fifth generation warfare capability associated with the F-35 fleet will provide a rich area to shape new approaches to capabilities going forward. 

How do you see this interactive combat modernization space shaping up going forward?

Pietro Batacchi: Also regarding the industrial point of view, the two aircraft can be considered fully complementary.

The Eurofighter provided the Italian and the European industry more in general with a high quality involvement as the program allowed Italy to develop new technologies that before were not available in Europe.

At the same time, the industrial participation in the F-35 program brought in Italy an advanced industrial process in which all the components and parts have to be perfectly produced and in which the tolerances must be more than narrow.

This aspect was fundamental for the Italian industry, which now can replicate this process in the future aeronautical programs starting, for example, from a new fighter aircraft that could be manned or unmanned.

Notably this is true with regard to missiles.  Indeed, the first new fifth generation missile is Meteor which is clearly the first of several new missiles to follow drawing off the fifth generation warfare transition. 

How do you see the future of the evolution of missiles driven by the evolving concepts of operations?

Pietro Batacchi: The Meteor missile will provide Eurofighter with Beyond Visual Range capability that is crucial in the modern air-to-air combat scenarios where the probability of the so called dog fight are more and more lower.

In addition we have to consider the importance of the advanced data link that together with new open architecture of an air-to-air missile can allow to change mission and target during the flight and get in this way greater flexibility in the engagement.

Question: Finally, Italy is well positioned in terms of building and supporting 21st century combat forces. 

At Cameri you are building the new generation aircraft. Italy is also building some additional Eurofighters but over the next decade the effort will focus on MRO or sustainment and modernization of the Eurofighter fleet.

And Italy has a 21st century fighter, the Aeromachi M-346.

 How do you see the Italian industrial position and its advantages moving forward?

Pietro Batacchi: The Italian aerospace industry is well positioned for the future challenges.

It gained a great experience during the past with important program such as the Tornado, the Eurofighter and now wit the F-35.

In addition the Italian defense industry has a long standing tradition in some excellence sectors as, for example, in the trainer sector as you mentioned or in the missile sector or in the electronic warfare systems field.

So the Italian industry has all the competencies needed to see to the future with optimism and to continue to play a key role in Europe.

The photos in the slideshow of the Italian operation in the Baltic Air Policing mission from earlier this year have been provided by the Italian Air Force.