Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Italy Launches Further Tornado Upgrades

By Andy Nativi(DN)

GENOA, Italy — The Italian air force has signed a contract worth €96 million ($127.7 million) with the European consortium Panavia to begin upgrading a further batch of Tornado fighter bombers — 15 Electronic Combat/Reconnaissance aircraft and 10 standard interdictor/strike attack aircraft — which are to be brought to the latest Ret 8 configuration.
The new contract is in addition to €65 million already spent on kits and equipment to be integrated on the aircraft. The bulk of the work is to be carried out by Alenia Aeronautica in Turin. The programs calls for deliveries to be complete by 2015.
Meanwhile, the air force has begun receiving 15 Tornadoes updated to the Ret 7 midlife update standard whose deliveries are to be completed by the end of 2012. The first aircraft were delivered to the Ghedi-based 6th Wing by Dec. 20.
The air force already has 18 Ret 6 upgraded aircraft in service, which were re-delivered beginning in 2004. The air force had hoped to be able to upgrade 30 or even 35 Tornadoes to the Ret 8 standard, but financial pressure shrank the number to 25.
The Tornadoes could remain on duty beyond 2025. The Tornado front line is therefore going to go down to 60 aircraft, assigned to two wings (the 6th and 50th), both based in northern Italy. Italy originally acquired a total of 99 operational Tornadoes, but several were lost in incidents and combat actions. They are now used for suppression of enemy air defenses, interdiction, reconnaissance and nuclear strike roles; the maritime attack mission has been eliminated.
The aircraft also are deployed to Afghanistan to support NATO missions, being rotated in with AMXs. They fly reconnaissance and intelligence missions, also including a special counter-improvised explosive device role using the Reccelite reconnaissance pod to detect possible IED emplacements.
They also are slated to take on a close air support (CAS) role, but only by using guns, rather than bombs or missiles. After a lengthy review, Italian Defense Minister Ignazio la Russa, to the military’s dismay, decided to continue the current “ban” on using any type of weaponry in CAS missions beyond the gun, and then only in extreme situations.
The Italian army’s Mangusta helicopter pilots routinely use both the 20-mm. Gatling gun as well as Tow missiles, but their air force colleagues are forbidden to employ smart weapons, including laser-, IR- and GPS-guided munitions.
The minister also has, at least for the near term, opted against the acquisition of Hellfire missiles or their integration on Predator/Reaper UAVs, relegating them to surveillance rather than hunter/killer roles.
German Tornado photo: DOD

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