Publicly available documents from the Italian parliament and Defense Ministry show Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) was awarded contracts with Rome worth approximately $550 million. The deals are for special mission aircraft as well as support and ground logistics services, Haaretz reported Sunday. This brings the total number of spy planes Italy has purchased from IAI to four, the newly exposed deal reveals.
Last month, IAI announced it had secured a contract totaling more than $200 million for a supply of special mission aircraft to a European NATO member state without identifying the country’s name. IAI still declines to “discuss the identity of its customers” but this Haaretz report reveals that it is Italy. The investigation also covers another massive deal with the Italian Air Force announced by IAI in 2020.
ELTA, an IAI subsidiary, modifies executive jets to make a wide variety of planes used for military intelligence including Aerial Ground Surveillance, Maritime patrol aircraft, SIGINT aircraft, and CAEW planes which “provide airborne early warning and control, along with electronic intelligence capabilities.”
In 2021, Italy’s Defense Ministry announced its intent to obtain two new ELTA CAEW planes. According to Haaretz, these planes are “based on the Gulfstream G550 business jet, which is then modified for early warning and air control missions. It’s similar to the Nachshon Eitam aircraft that serves the Israeli Air Force… These planes are equipped with radar, advanced sensors and intelligence gathering systems, providing its operator with full situational awareness, ‘air-defense and air-battle management, with continuous 360 degree surveillance of all airborne and maritime threats,’ as IAI described it.”
Defense Ministry documents contain details on the contract, this is the same deal IAI announced in July at a British airshow, it was signed in March and is worth $230 million.
Documents also reveal Rome’s $360 million 10-year (2020-2029) services contract with ELTA, inked in May 2020, for support and logistical services associated with their spy plane fleet and its maintenance. The two additional early warning aircraft will join two others Israel supplied Italy as part of a huge 2011 bilateral transaction. That deal also saw Israel provide a satellite for the Italian army and the Israeli Air Force bought “dozens of training planes” from an Italian company called Leonardo.
Rome’s air force is carrying out a multistage procurement program overhauling its special mission aircraft, replacing old planes and reinforcing its spy plane fleet. The initial phase of the program is not expected to be completed until 2032, the planes are supposed to be in service until at least 2040 or even 2056.
The E-550 CAEW is described by a former Italian air force commander as “a sort of ‘flying command post’ which through aerial surveillance, command, and control functions, is able to offer.. a decisive operational contribution to achieve information superiority.” There are also air force plans, approved by Italian lawmakers, to buy eight more of these Gulfstream jets and modify them for use in a various special missions. Rome is reportedly buying six more “green” (unequipped) jets to be converted by U.S. firms like L3Harris Technologies to “carry airborne intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and electronic warfare (AISREW) systems.”
Italy’s ELTA aircraft have already joined NATO exercises and operations. According to the report,
In March, one of the two planes was spotted on its first intelligence gathering mission for NATO in Eastern Europe. The plane flew for about four hours along the Romanian, Moldovan and Ukrainian borders in a pattern most likely associated with IDing and mapping Russian forces that invaded Ukraine. According to the Italian air force, in the past two years, the planes have flown 650 missions and have racked up a cumulative 4,362 hours of flight time.