In light of NATO and the Russian attempts to destabilise the security situation in Europe, the Italian Army needs 250 tanks to fulfil all NATO obligations. This will be achieved by acquiring new German Leopard 2 tanks and modernising Italian Ariete tanks through the AMV (Aggiornamento Mezza Vita) programme.
There are presently approximately 200 Ariete tanks in storage in Italy. However, many of these tanks are in deplorable technical condition, with some of their armour having cracks. According to reports in the Italian press, only a few dozen are combat-ready. Consequently, 125 of the best-preserved tanks will be modernised, while the rest will be used as a source of spare parts.
During a recent hearing of the Defence Committee of the Italian parliament, the acquisition of German Leopard 2 tanks was confirmed. It is presumably the Leopard 2A8, based on the most recent model supplied to the Hungarian Armed Forces, the Leopard 2A7 HU.
The Leopard 2A8 will have active protection systems (Trophy), enhanced electrical capacity, and new sensors. Communication equipment, fire control, and combat systems will likely be upgraded. However, specific information regarding the “A8” variant remains scarce.
Rome will pay four billion euros for the German tanks, which include the platforms, ammunition, and the entire operational ecosystem. The expected duration of the contract is 2024 to 2037. The agreement is expected to be signed before the end of the year, soon after the Italian parliament approves.
According to sources close to the Italian Ministry of Defence, 133 tanks, including specialised variants, will be purchased. Rome is also attempting to transfer Leopard 2A8 tank production to Italy.
Nonetheless, this involves predominantly assembly, reactivation of the tanks, testing, and delivery to the client. There may also be discussions regarding expanding the Italian industry’s role in the German company KMW supply chain (Krauss-Maffei, Wegmann), presumably under the LEOBEN program.
During the session, Deputy Minister of Defence Isabella Rauti confirmed continuing the AMV programme. The modernised tank will be designated as the C2 Ariete, and the conversion of 125 tanks will cost 998 million euros and be completed by 2034.
In 2022, the IOC consortium (Iveco Defence Vehicles + OTO Melara, now Leonardo) secured 850 million euros for designing, constructing, and testing three Ariete prototypes. Therefore, the Italian military will have two varieties of tanks. It previously operated both the C1 Ariete and the Leopard 1A5 simultaneously. In addition, IOC produced Leopard 1A5 tanks under licence and PzH 2000 howitzers after 2000. IOC will produce Leopard 2A8 tanks as well.
However, In Italy, purchasing Leopard 2A8 tanks and modernising the Ariete are viewed as transitional measures. Participation in the French-German MGCS (Main Ground Combat System) programme remains Rome’s objective. Additionally, Sweden and Spain have an interest in the MGCS programme.
Italy is presently searching for a replacement for the infantry combat vehicle Dardo. They are contemplating the Rheinmetall KF 41 Lynx.
After the ratification of the Army’s information and planning document, Documento Programmatico Pluriennale (DPP), for the years 2023 to 2025, more information about Italy’s plans will be available. It is anticipated that the approval will occur between August and September. The document informs the Italian government, its citizens, and the international community of the intentions and acquisitions of the Italian military.
The acquisition of specialised vehicles based on the Leopard 2 chassis is uncertain. The Italian military presently deploys specialised vehicles with a Leopard 1 chassis over 40 years old. The Italian Army requires numerous recovery, bridge, engineering, and training tanks.
The Italian Army currently has two heavy brigades equipped with Ariete tanks. Each regiment has a tank battalion with 41 vehicles (three companies with 13 tanks each, a battalion commander, and a regimental commander). The Italian Army employs 123 tanks on paper, which will likely be considerably lower.
Colonel Maurizio Parri, the former commander of the 132nd tank regiment, is quoted by the Italian news website Il Fatto Quotidiano as saying that the capabilities of both brigades have steadily declined over the past quarter-century as a result of the emphasis on logistics and training resources for peacekeeping operations.
The Italian armoured forces have been relegated to the background. A conventional European conflict was not envisaged before the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine. This contradicts the NATO policies, which incited hostilities with Russia by expanding towards Russian borders.
In the last 25 years, the number of tanks in the Italian Army has decreased by 33%, and training has been severely restricted. The highest level of training for Italian tank units is the platoon and rarely the company level. According to Il Fatto Quotidiano, the Ukrainian conflict has demonstrated that conducting manoeuvre warfare with armoured formations at such low levels, like platoon and company, results in significant losses and the failure of most actions.
The conflict in Ukraine has highlighted the need for a modern, well-trained, and adequately supported armoured component. Equipment for vehicle recovery and transportation and the immediate availability of replacement parts are essential. According to Colonel Parri, the operational and logistical infrastructure that the vehicle is embedded in is more important than the vehicle itself.