Procurement: November 24, 2000


: The Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militare Italiana or AMI) is facing a crisis. The ancient F-104S Starfighters are barely able to fly, cost a fortune to maintain, and are barely capable of any useful military function. The 24 British Tornado F3s being leased by the Italians are set to return in 2005, although the Italians may send them home early rather than pay for the scheduled upgrade package. That leaves the Italians with effectively no combat aircraft until the Eurofighter Typhoons reach their full operating capability in 2009. To cover the gap, the Italians plan to lease 30 or 40 serious combat aircraft for a five-year period. The options include: 

@ British Tornado F3s, but the British want to use the F3s themselves.

@ Russian MiG-29s refitted with Western communications and other gear. This is the lowest-cost option but is regarded as the least likely. The fact that Germany continued to operate MiG-29s after unification is seen as a plus for this option.

@ A French offer to lease new-production Mirage-2000-5 fighters. This is the most expensive option but provides the most capable aircraft.

@ A US offer to lease old F-16s (Block 10 or Block 15, compared to the current Block 42 and the upcoming Block 50 and Block 60) taken from National Guard units. These aircraft would have to have engine and systems upgrades to be effective.--Stephen V Cole


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