Italy Spreads Its Defense, Aerospace Resources

February 2009
By Henry S. Kenyon

 
Located 20 kilometers south of Rome, the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Centre for Earth Observation (ESRIN) collects data from orbiting Earth science satellites. The facility also supports a variety of ESA research efforts. The ESRIN’s other mission is to interact with commercial and government users to help develop new space-related products and services to help European and Italian innovation and competitiveness.
Regional and national incentives develop technology, industry in new regions.

One of Europe’s industrial powerhouses is distributing its advanced research and manufacturing capabilities beyond their traditional geographic areas. In the past decade, Italy has enacted legislation to promote the creation of new businesses and laboratories across the nation. By spreading development to new areas, the Italian government hopes to spur economic development locally while creating new technologies and markets for aerospace and defense systems.

Traditionally, manufacturing and scientific research centers were concentrated in Italy’s north and the central regions of Lazio, Abruzzo and Campania. To spread economic growth and development, the Italian government began to pass national- and regional-level legislation to spur growth in new regions. Since 1999, this legislative effort has led to some 100 regional laws encouraging local research and business initiatives, says Lt. Gen. Pietro Finocchio, ITAF, general director of Italy’s General Directorate for Information Technology and High Technology, Rome.

Gen. Finocchio explains that these growth policies begin by identifying local areas of expertise in business and technology. This selection process can be top-down or bottom-up and it is either launched through a centralized quantitative analysis study at the national level or a local public request for proposals. In the case of an open public process, international standards are followed that encourage the participation of Italian and international representatives from business and academia.

The Italian government has designated these new regional growth areas as technology districts and has established guidelines to foster economic and scientific growth and competition at the local level. Italy’s current and planned technology districts devoted to aerospace, defense and information technologies are Campania, which is focusing on polymer-based materials and structures research and development; Piedmont, specializing in information and communications technologies; and Venice, emphasizing nanotechnology research. The Lombardy region is a center of advanced materials development, while Sicily is home to micro- and nanosystems research facilities. Lazio primarily supports aerospace and defense manufacturing and research; Emilia Romagna is devoted to high-level industrial work; Puglia focuses on high technology mechanical systems and Tuscany on information and communication systems.

Northwest Italy includes heavy industry and aerospace facilities in the Milan and Torino regions. Land systems development and manufacturing are located east of Milan while communications systems are made in Milan and naval systems in Liguria. Northeastern Italy is home to naval systems and shipyards in the Venice and Trieste regions with aeronautics and ironworks clustered around Venice. Aerospace centers of excellence are located in Tuscany, and electronics and communications manufacturing is concentrated in the area between Frienze, Pisa and Livorno.

The Lazio, Abruzzo and Campania regions are also home to aerospace, defense and a variety of electronics industries. Southern Italy has clusters of industries focused on naval systems, aircraft engines and structures located in the cities of Taranto, Brindisi and Bari.

The Italian government has also developed the Joint Experimental and Training Range in Sardinia. The range is used to test rockets, missiles, ordnance and unmanned weapons systems.

While the government has taken steps to distribute high technology enterprises, the regions retain their strengths. Rome remains the traditional center for government and business. Gen. Finocchio notes that the capital region is home to all of the government’s ministries, universities and research centers. Rome also hosts the military’s general staffs and administrative and technical support such as directorates for armaments and technical development.

A variety of national and international research centers also are located around the capital. The town of Frascati, some 20 kilometers south of Rome, is home to the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Centre for Earth Observation (ESRIN), one of five specialized ESA facilities located across the continent. The facility collects data from orbiting environmental satellites and conducts research supporting European space science.

One of the programs supported by the ESRIN is the Vega Program, the ESA’s effort to develop a rocket capable of launching small satellites. Other work includes developing and supporting ESA software and information systems, a telecommunications laboratory, and housing the European Centre for Space Records. The center also hosts the ESA Web portal and a virtual reality theater that provides specialists and students with visual representations of complex Earth observation and geographic data.

Another important area in the region is the Galileo Test Range, located between Rome and Tivoli. The range is a collaborative venture between Telespazio and Tor Vergata University. The range hosts a permanent laboratory and technology center devoted to developing and certifying new navigation signals, defining and testing new navigation products and services, and supporting small and mid-sized businesses and research facilities dedicated to navigation systems.

New Systems Face Uncertain Funding Environment

Italy is in the midst of an ambitious military transformation program that is shifting the nation’s largely conscript army to a professional force. An important aspect of this transformation is improving the Italian military’s ability to interoperate with its allies in a network-centric environment.

To meet its modernization goals, the Italian Ministry of Defense has launched a number of development projects in areas such as soldier modernization, space and satellite communications, software-defined radios, radar and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). However, a lack of financial resources is delaying the development and deployment of these systems. “Italy has no money,” explains Bruno Mucciolo, a defense systems analyst with Frost and Sullivan, London.

Delayed programs affect the operation of the country’s armed forces. The few remaining free funds in the defense budget are competing with existing capital projects such as warships, missiles, the Eurofighter and international commitments such as participating in the Joint Strike Fighter program. These large-platform purchases leave fewer funds for network-centric projects than originally planned, Mucciolo says.

The lack of funding is also affecting Italy’s participation in international cooperative ventures. For example, Mucciolo says that when Italy launched its solder modernization effort, it partnered with Germany’s Rheinmetall. But after a year and a half, the consortium disintegrated because the Italian partners were not fully engaged financially. He adds that this type of issue may occur again in the near future.

Italy probably will find funding for the most important multinational efforts, if only to avoid international embarrassment, explains Frost and Sullivan analyst Marco Lukovic. Other programs will be delayed, while Italy might pull out of some efforts entirely.

For example, Finmeccanica is part of an international consortium to develop a software-defined radio. Mucciolo notes that the need for a software-defined radio has become an urgent operational requirement for many European nations, adding that there is ongoing work to develop a European waveform to ensure interoperability. But he admits that Italy is struggling to meet its commitments because of the tight budget.

Despite the grim outlook, Italian firms are moving ahead in two areas, UAV and radar system development. National UAV research is divided between two Finmeccanica companies, Alenia and Galileo. Alenia produces medium-sized and larger aircraft, while Galileo develops and manufactures small tactical UAVs. A nationally-produced UAV is important because Italy has a gap in its operational requirements, explains Lukovic. He notes that in recent years, Italian armed forces operated Predator-A UAVs license-built by Alenia.

The Italian Ministry of Defense also has realized that it is operationally useful to develop tactical UAVs. The Falco platform was developed for the Italian military, but funding issues have prevented immediate acquisition. Instead the first sales have been to Pakistan. Lukovic notes that Italy is scheduled to buy 15 Falcos in 2009. The Ministry of Defense was supposed to have approved the procurement in late 2008. However, “as far as I know, it hasn’t happened yet,” he says.

Italy is scheduled to acquire Predator-B hunter-killer drones. But Lukovic adds that these medium-altitude aircraft do not solve Italy’s lack of tactical unmanned platforms. Unlike the Predator-A, which is locally built, the Predator Bs will be manufactured in the United States. “There’s no role for Alenia or Finmeccanica at all,” he says.

Two other locally developed medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV platforms are the Sky-X and Sky-Y programs. Sky-X is Italy’s contribution to develop a pan-European jet-powered UAV, while Sky-Y is intended for civilian applications. Lukovic notes that Sky-Y’s flight test results have been very good, which may influence Finmeccanica to market the aircraft in other areas such as the military or homeland security.

Italian ground forces also lack mini UAVs such as the hand-launched Raven used by U.S. forces. Lukovic notes that a small Italian firm independently has developed a micro-UAV called Strix—Latin for owl—that is being marketed by Finmeccanica. The Italian military has purchased Strix UAVs, which were tested successfully by troops in Afghanistan. He adds that these small platforms are perhaps the easiest issue to resolve because they are much less expensive than larger platforms.

Radar systems are another bright spot for Italian electronics firms and their international partners. One example is the Empar G-band, multifunction, active phased array radar being developed for the Italian and French navies. The system’s antenna rotates at 60 times a minute to provide tracking, surveillance and weapons fire control capabilities. The radar is designed to operate in highly cluttered conditions and to resist jamming. Empar allows warships to counter a range of airborne threats such as supersonic aircraft, sea-skimming missiles, supersonic missiles, helicopters and UAVs.

The radar system is being integrated on the Horizon frigates entering service with the Italian and French navies and Italy’s aircraft carrier, the Conte di Cavior. Empar radar systems also will be installed on the FREMM multipurpose frigates under development for the French and Italian navies.

AFCEA’S Italian Chapters Grow, Adapt

Two key association chapters are deeply involved with Italy’s aerospace, technology and defense industries. AFCEA’s Rome and Naples chapters have both expanded their membership in recent years through aggressive outreach and education efforts. Both chapters differ in their audience and activities, reflecting the nature of business in their respective regions.

AFCEA’S Rome chapter has access to government ministries, business and research universities. According to chapter vice president Marina Ruggieri, the chapter has dramatically increased its membership over the last two years through a series of meetings and symposia. She adds that another source of membership is Rome’s academic community. The chapter is courting students and academics with a combination of research scholarships, education and outreach.

While the focus of Rome is on government and academia, AFCEA’s Naples chapter has an international outlook and supports NATO and U.S. Navy activities in the region. The chapter is also involved with local technology firms and serves as an interface between business and NATO, explains chapter president Lt. Col. Guido Giordano, ITAF. Naples chapter members actively contribute documents and proposals for technical support and development of NATO and international projects. The colonel notes that the chapter can rely on the technology skills of its members, local universities and international firms to help develop programs and proposals.

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