Italy Boosts Defense Capabilities: Acquires Leopard 2 and Upgrades C1 Ariete Tanks

In a move to strengthen its ground forces capabilities, the Italian Ministry of Defense recently announced plans to acquire 133 German-made Leopard 2 main battle tanks. Italy has also launched a national defense program to upgrade its existing 125 C1 Ariete main battle tanks.
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Italian Army C1 Ariete MBT Main Battle Tank. (Picture source Army Recognition)

Despite its ability to independently develop Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) and Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs), Italy has lagged behind other European powers in modernizing its army. Many of its tanks and armored vehicles are in dire need of upgrades. Of the 200 C1 Ariete Main Battle Tanks Italy possesses, only 25% are currently combat-ready. This poses concerns, especially since NATO standards require Italy to maintain a fleet of at least 250 main battle tanks.

To address this shortcoming of the Italian army, Italian Undersecretary of Defense, Isabella Rauti divulged plans for a substantial investment of €4 billion (approximately $4.49 billion USD) in 2024. This fund aims to purchase new Main Battle Tanks (MBTs), notably the German Leopard 2 and its improved variants. The funding proposal is already included in Italy's defense spending plan for 2023 to 2025.

While the specific Leopard 2 variant remains undisclosed, models 2A7 and 2A8 are currently in high demand. The purchase agreement is in its concluding phase, with the contract expected to be formalized as early as 2024. Minister Rauti emphasized that this acquisition will enhance Italy's collaboration with the German defense industry and pave the way for its participation in the "future ground combat system" led by Germany and France.

Alongside these acquisitions, Italy also emphasizes the importance of upgrading its C1 Ariete MBTs. Initiatives for such upgrades began in August 2019. Notable enhancements encompass the tank's chassis, turret, and optical systems, as well as updated radio and navigation equipment. This investment, totaling approximately 900 million euros, aims to extend the C1 Ariete tank's operational lifespan until at least 2034.

Reflecting on Italy's broader defense modernization strategy in recent years, the country has initiated multiple projects. Since July 2018, Italy began replacing its older Centauro I 8x8 anti-tank armored vehicles with the newer Centauro II models. In January 2022, the Italian Leonardo Defense Group announced a range of enhanced equipment for the Italian Army's VBM Freccia (Arrow) 8x8 Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs). These upgrades, which incorporate the "Galileo" satellite navigation system for the VBM Freccia IFV, promise improved adaptability on digital battlefields.

With these strategic decisions, Italy underscores its commitment to bolstering its ground combat capabilities and building stronger alliances with European defense partners.

Defense News August 2023