Italian military forces are increasingly operating in U.N.-sponsored, NATO-led missions abroad. In order to support these commitments and still protect its national interests, the Italian government must adopt the New Defence Model.
Since 1993, the Italian Navy has been publishing a yearly report whose aim is to stimulate thought about security issues, in the wider context of the international scenarios where the Navy itself works. The document also is intended to foster deeper knowledge of the Navy’s situation; therefore, it focuses on two major issues: an assessment of the major trends in the political/military environment where the Navy is involved, and an overview of its main activities, worries, and future evolution.
The Conceptual Approach
The demise of the Soviet Union and subsequent changes in the geostrategic environment have caused a deep reappraisal of the traditional military posture linked to the Cold War era. Being closely involved in the NATO integrated military structure, the Italian Navy has embarked on its long-term policy, using a New Defence Model (NDM) as a constant benchmark. The NDM is an official defense policy document conceived in the early 1990s, modified with the passing of time, and—owing to the dramatic political/economic national situation—never discussed in the Parliament. At present, the Navy has undertaken a medium-to-long-term assessment of security and defense-related matters, because of the changes in the international environment that greatly affect the future role of the military forces. One trend favors a shift away from a defense policy based on old models toward a new security strategy that has a growing correlation with foreign and economic policies. Furthermore, the time has come to begin a modernization and reorganization of the naval force structure. This process is hampered, however. by an economic situation that in recent years has led to a steady decrease in resources. Nevertheless, the Navy has to be updated—taking into account new international security and policy requirements—to provide the best support for Italy’s global interests, in close coordination with diplomatic and national economic bodies.
Recently, many problems have been confronted in order to create a new and credible security framework. United Nations activities in Bosnia, Somalia, and Rwanda have confirmed that in such complex situations, limited initiatives from the international community have proved their inadequacy, tardiness, and ineffectiveness—too little, too late. In the foreseeable future, however, commitments for Italian military forces largely will be derived from crisis-control and humanitarian missions under U.N." mandate and NATO leadership.
NATO is the only organization that has an effective integrated military structure, which has adjusted itself in a timely manner to deal with the changes in the geostrategic environment. The alliance is affected by the present situation and is searching for its future evolution, particularly with respect to its possible enlargement. NATO remains a fundamental pillar of the global security concept and a benchmark for the Italian Navy, which supports its initiatives and actively participates in several operations.
The Western European Union (WEU) is gradually—but constantly—building its own role as the European pillar of the Atlantic alliance, but it encounters some problems in affirming its identity on the world scene because of an enlargement process that does not seem suited to a well-defined development of a common security and foreign policy. Italy’s commitment within WEU is another key aspect of national foreign policy, as well as its active participation in the embargo operations in the Adriatic Sea to enforce the U.N. Security Council’s resolutions.
The new world order (or disorder) has brought to the fore the concept of national global interests. In addition to the usual military missions, this concept is comprised of other functions (e.g., diplomacy, economic and cultural relations) linked with defense policy, in order to define a global policy of national interests needed to compete in an international arena where economic and commercial factors will define a new international balance and hierarchy. Italy’s national interests are extended well beyond its traditional regional geopolitical areas and their management requires close linkage among defense, foreign, and economic policies. The Mediterranean Sea is the centerpiece of the Italian strategic scenario, but national interests are encompassed in the so-called “enlarged Mediterranean,” a vast area extended beyond the traditional borders of the former mare nostrum. Thus, Italy’s interests are projected along two major maritime directions; the first is eastbound, through the Adriatic Sea, the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasic area, while the second is southbound, consisting of the North African littoral, the Horn of Africa, and the Persian Gulf.
Because of the differing geographical characteristics of these regions, it is clear that Italy needs military forces with high levels of jointness, flexibility, and mobility—but also with a relevant maritime component in order to ensure operational effectiveness and power-projection capabilities.
Commitments and Resources
In recent years, Italy’s naval forces have been used in ways quite different from the traditional Cold War-era scenario. Earlier, most of the operations tempo was devoted to exercises. Now, more than 50% of naval activity consists of real operations—most of them executed in distant waters. This situation is quite demanding because naval organization is affected greatly by the availability of global maritime assets. In addition, ship life-cycle costs are constantly increasing, while naval units are going through an accelerated and unplanned wear-and-tear process.
From 1993 to 1995, the Italian Navy has been fully involved in three different U.N. missions in Somalia (Operations Restore Hope, Continue Hope, and United Shield). Each time, the naval component of the joint national task force was composed of one or two major surface combatants, two or three amphibious ships, and one underway-replenishment vessel. Each mission lasted three to four months and confirmed the feasibility of close operational coordination between Army and Navy assets within a multinational operational framework. However, these missions caused an unplanned overburdening of the fleet. At the same time, other naval assets continued to perform other missions. One force at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, composed of four patrol vessels (the 10th Coastal Naval Group), operated as part of the multinational force of observers established in 1982 by the Camp David agreements between Israel and Egypt, while another force of at least three Italian Navy ships played a prominent role in the Adriatic Sea by contributing to the NATOAVEU Combined Task Force 440 (CTF 440). This multinational maritime force was formed in 1993 by merging NATO and WEU naval assets deployed in the Adriatic Sea, to enforce a number of U.N. Security Council resolutions concerning the situation in the former Yugoslavia. CTF 440 executed Operation Sharp Guard, the enforcement of a tight overall embargo against Serbia and Montenegro under a NATO/WEU unified chain of command, with a significant contingent of Italian naval officers. For the time being, operations in the Adriatic Sea and in the Red Sea are likely to continue, causing the Navy to commit a precise and fixed number of vessels for those missions—therefore making them unavailable for other roles.
In addition, because of the larger number of allied ships and aircraft deployed in the Adriatic, Italy has been called upon to provide port availability, refueling facilities, storage areas, shipyard services, general assistance, and sea-shore airlift for personnel and equipment. For this, a forward logistics site was established at Grottaglie Naval Air Station (near Taranto) in early December 1993, and Taranto and Brindisi naval bases are fully committed to providing integrated logistic support to NATOAVEU naval forces.
A number of Italian naval air and maritime assets also are involved constantly in monitoring and preventing clandestine immigration, especially around the southern regions of the peninsula (Sicilian Channel and Strait of Otranto). This peculiar role is executed by Navy air and surface units operating closely with police and customs-service forces in a joint effort to provide humanitarian aid to suffering people.
Since 1994, forward naval presence in distant areas has increased greatly to meet requirements derived from the January 1994 NATO summit. The Partnership for Peace (PFP) initiative added a new dimension to the global security concept. Despite its geographic position— which is quite far from the European area where the nucleus of PFP countries lies—Italy and its navy firmly support this initiative.
Within the WEU framework, Italy, France, and Spain decided in the spring of 1995 to establish a European Maritime Force. This naval contingency task force is to be assembled when inevitable crises arise, and should be able to perform a variety of missions. This force will deploy under WEU leadership, but if required would operate together with NATO assets or under U.N. auspices.
The Italian Navy is facing a constant increase in operating tempo and increasing budget pressure. According to this global scenario and what has been envisioned in the NDM, the Italian Navy has already started a reorganization of its manpower. The basic concept has been a force reduction (from 49,000 personnel in 1988 to 43,000 in 1994, with a goal of 40,000 personnel at the end of the implementation process) coupled with a marked increase in proficiency required by the Navy to deal with new missions that range from crisis management and peacekeeping operations to humanitarian assistance and related activities. The final goal is a more flexible and capable structure in which people are required to reach higher levels of professionalism.
Facing an increasingly burdensome share of national and international commitments, the Italian Navy is simultaneously coping with an inadequate budget. These trends are affecting national military structure as a whole, in the wake of major financial cuts that lack coherent logic and are dictated solely by an ongoing national contingency. While committing Italy to the various U.N. and NATO-sponsored operations, the political community fails to appreciate the real terms of security problems, a trend erroneously and heavily affected by the misleading perceptions of a new and stable post-Cold War era. Such problems are exacerbated by the growing significance of stability and security problems in the Southern periphery of Europe encompassing the Mediterranean Sea and adjacent areas where national interests are at risk.
Owing to the inadequacy of its budget (in 1995, the equivalent of US$2.1 billion), the Italian Navy is facing major constraints in procurement and research-and-development expenditures. Pay and social costs cover more than 50% of the total navy budget, leaving only a small portion for procurement and modernization, while the rest must be devoted to the operational activities. If this latter figure ($460 million) were reduced, naval forces availability and operational capabilities would be severely jeopardized.
Force Structure and Levels
In March 1975, the Italian Parliament promulgated the so-called Naval Law, a document regarding a broad-based plan for the modernization of the Italian fleet, which established an allocation of $600 million over-budget funding to be spent over a decade. That plan allowed for modernization of the fleet. The flexible and capable naval force that emerged from the plan has been able to meet the demanding requirements of the succeeding decades (especially operations in the Eastern Mediterranean and Persian Gulf), and it still satisfies current commitments. However, the changing environment calls for further modernization because of the number of units approaching the end of service life. The fleet is engaged in many operations and the planning process to replace the oldest vessels is a time-consuming one. In the past five years, many ships have been decommissioned, and so far, few replacements have been provided. If no new-construction ships are laid down, the number of major combatants will be halved within ten years, at a time when Navy commitments will be more demanding. It is assumed that a process for fleet modernization needs a funding program that has to be carefully planned, remembering that such a process also is needed by the national naval shipbuilding industry.
The nucleus of major surface combatants consists of blue-water vessels capable of sustained operations in distant waters. It is comprised of the light aircraft carrier Giuseppi Garibaldi (in service since 1985), the guided-missile helicopter cruiser Vittorio Veneto (1969), two De La Penne-class guided-missile helicopter destroyers (early 1970s), and eight Maestrale and four Lupo-class helicopter frigates (mid-1970s to mid-1980s).
Minor surface combatants are vessels capable of performing patrol, surveillance, control, and interdiction roles in coastal and offshore maritime areas, plus narrow waters such as the Sicilian Channel and the Adriatic Sea. There are eight Minerva-class corvettes (late 1980s to early 1990s), four Soldati-class fleet patrol vessels (the former Lupo-class Iraqi missile frigates built in the early 1980s, whose purchase was canceled because of the 1987 arms embargo against Iran and Iraq), and six Nibbio-class missile hydrofoils (early 1980s).
The submarine force is comprised of four Sfliiro-class boats (early 1980s), two Pelosi-class boats (late 1980s), and two Longobardo-class boats (early 1990s), the latter four being an updated version of the earlier ones.
The amphibious component consists of three San Giorgio-class LPDs (late 1980s to early 1990s), the latest two vessels being equipped to act also as training and disaster-relief units.
The mine countermeasures (MCM) force is formed by four Lerici-class and six Gaeta-class units (late 1980s to early 1990s). The latter ships are updated versions of the earlier ones with a design that has been successfully exported to the United States, Nigeria, Malaysia and Australia.
The auxiliary component includes vessels that support the combatant fleet and perform such varied roles as oceangoing replenishment, maritime antipollution, hydrography and oceanography, fishery surveillance, lighthouse service, and training. The major units are two Stromboli- class underway-replenishment vessels and four Cassiopea-class offshore patrol vessels, accompanied by rescue ships, training ships, and minor tankers and general support vessels.
Naval aviation is split into two components, a sea-based one (comprised of 5 short take off/vertical landing [STO/VL| AV-8B Harrier II Plus aircraft—supplemented by 13 other aircraft—and a number of medium and light helicopters) and a shore-based one (including only rotary-wing aircraft). There are a total of 29 SH-3D medium helicopters and 18 Atlantic maritime patrol aircraft owned by the Air Force and operated by the Navy.
The Way Ahead: From Forward Defense to Forward Presence
Within the strategic framework established in the NDM and taking into account the major tasks and threats facing Italy in the foreseeable future (global instability in the Mediterranean Sea and adjacent waters, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, radical transnational movements, territorial disputes, disruption of the flow of vital resources, mass migration, and international terrorism), the Italian Navy is called upon to play a major role by:
- Maintaining adequate sea control areas where maritime trade of national interest flows
- Contributing to the defense of national sovereignty and air/maritime borders
- Providing an appropriate and capable contribution to joint and combined maritime multinational forces needed to perform a variety of missions under NATOAVEU auspices
To meet global requirements, the NDM—to be viewed as the national defense posture—envisions a naval force comprised of 2 air-capable ships. 16 major surface combatants, 20 minor surface and patrol combatants, 8 submarines, 18 MCM vessels, 3 amphibious ships, a number of support ships (including 3 underway-replenishment vessels), 26 fixed-wing STO/VL aircraft, 80 ship-and shore-based helicopters, and a naval infantry force (amalgamated within a larger navy/army brigade and a naval commando/special operations group). In comparison with earlier requirements, the global naval force has been decreased by 20%. The most significant matter of the fleet reorganization, however, is a concept that differs from the previous one (two blue-water task groups deployed easterly and westerly from the Italian peninsula) by establishing a single naval force able to guarantee sustained maritime presence and operations in areas of interest.
To address fleet modernization properly, the Italian Navy has begun the initial study/design phase of some construction programs, most of which. however, are strictly linked to a long-term financial availability:
- One STO/VL aircraft carrier is intended to replace the aging cruiser Vittorio Veneto (to be scrapped at the end of the 1990s). A project-definition phase is envisioned in 1996 that will call for a multipurpose ship with limited amphibious and full command-and-control capabilities, a 16-aircraft embarked component, and a speed in the region of 29-30 knots
- Four antiair-warfare frigates, which are part of a collaborative multinational program with the U.K. and France (Project Horizon). Because of financial constraints, however, it is likely that no more than two vessels will be purchased. The first of class should be completed in 2002
- Eight fast interdiction/patrol vessels to replace the Nibbio-class hydrofoils; the initial design features are extensive use of merchant standards, manning reduction, and possible unconventional propulsion (i.e., diesel-electric)
- Two coastal-survey vessels: the concept design of a catamaran coastal hydrographic and oceanographic vessel is in progress
- About six oceangoing mine sweepers/hunters: the procurement program has been deferred to the early 2000s
- Four coastal patrol vessels: intended to replace the units deployed in Sinai; construction started in 1995 and should be completed in 1997
- Submarines: after the cancellation of the S-90 program, cooperation with German firms has been projected to build a boat similar to the 212-type submarine planned for the German Navy
- Multipurpose frigates: in the early 2000s, it is planned to begin the procurement of a new class of multipurpose, mainly antisubmarine-oriented frigates to replace the Lupo-class and Maestrale-dass frigates. Design features deriving from Project Horizon may be incorporated in the new vessels
- MCM/Signals Intelligence auxiliary vessel: it is planned to procure a dualrole auxiliary vessel with a contract scheduled for 1998
By virtue of its geographic position, Italy makes a substantial contribution to the defense of NATO’s southern region, and its maritime forces are valuable assets in the Mediterranean security framework. Nevertheless, maritime plans remain constrained by the delay in approving the New Defence Model and its associated budgets, which are necessary for planning. Although Italy continues to contribute effective naval forces to meet global requirements, program delays are causing shortfalls in force levels. These troubles will likely—and seriously—affect future capabilities in terms of effective contribution to multinational U.N.-sponsored and NATO/WEU-led maritime operations, causing a loss of international credibility for the country. Italy’s membership in the group of the most highly developed nations requires an adequate military capability that can easily be integrated into a broad multinational context. It is therefore time for the national political authorities to approach and define—explicitly—a coherent global security policy, and to provide the Navy leaders with a stable financial platform to implement such policy.
Commander Cosentino graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1974. He is assigned at NATO Headquarters as the Italian Military representative dealing with plans and policies.