After talking for years about the need to trim manpower to cope with declining funds, the Italian government finally pushed through a law in 2012 cutting 30,000 troops from the armed forces. Benefits will kick in over time as the cuts are made. Meanwhile, the Italian Army must face up to a maintenance and operations (M&O) budget that has been slashed by 50 percent through chronic cuts since 2008.
Tackling the challenge is the Army’s chief, Lt. Gen. Claudio Graziano, who led the U.N. mission in Lebanon from February 2007 to January 2010. Prior to that, he headed the Taurinense mountain troops brigade of the Italian Army, deploying to Kabul as the commander of the Kabul Multinational Brigade, part of the International Security Assistance Force, from 2005 to 2006. He also is a former Italian military attaché to Washington.
Q. How can you manage the decline of M&O spending?
A. We cannot take any more cuts to M&O, by which I mean everything from training to fuel and maintenance. A rationalizing process is underway to free up funds for M&O, but this obviously will take time because it will involve personnel.
But what we must reduce is spending for infrastructure. We have 550 active barracks plus deposits, because our footprint is still spread across the country as we were in the Cold War with a conscript army. If we could swap all that for 20 large bases, we would have solved the problem and even make money from the sell-offs. Our effort is aimed at avoiding leaving “empty” bases which, on the other hand, could be turned into a useful resource for local communities.
Q. Ariete tanks have been cited as an example of an Army asset hit hard by M&O cuts.
A. We are reducing Ariete tanks from 200 to 150, and we are moving towards having 50 operative tanks in 2013 upgraded in order to make them deployable on the full spectrum of operations with higher level of protection and ISTAR [intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance] capability and plan to upgrade the rest in the following years if funds are made available.
In the meantime, they will be used for training and conventional operations. We are dropping from four to three Ariete tank regiments.
Artillery pieces are also dropping from about 500 to 140, with an overall reduction of 70 percent. This is also due to changing requirements as attack helicopters and wheeled tanks take priority, but it is also true that priorities can change. In general, we have a real need to upgrade vehicles if you consider that not a single vehicle we took to Afghanistan in 2001 is still in service — none of them met new anti-IED [improvised explosive device] requirements.
Q. Which other armies have taken the right track in restructuring? What positive examples do you see around the world?
A. The first big reorganization of the Italian armed forces was in 2000, when we went professional. At that time, I was chief of the Force Planning Office, and our reference model was France. Today, with our focus on being expeditionary, we are closer to the U.K. and, conceptually speaking, to the U.S. model.
I have focused on making the brigade the center of gravity, able to operate right across the spectrum, with expeditionary, maneuver, combat, fire support, communications support and engineering support functions, as well as logistics and command and control. The brigade must be able to deploy and command multinational units and control troops of other nations, as we currently do in Afghanistan, where our brigades command 4,000 Italian soldiers as well as 3,000 soldiers from other nations, and where we control 10,000 Afghans.
Q. Is it a problem having more older soldiers on active duty?
A. Apart from rationalizing barracks, my priority is to keep soldiers operational as long as possible. In 2024, the Army will consist of 90,000 personnel, of which 63,000 soldiers will belong to the operational component. Of those, 30,000 must be young enough to be employed with light infantry and special forces. As they get older, they must be able to switch to lighter tasks, but we have already stepped up physical training. Physical readiness standards have been upgraded: for instance, the run test standard is now three kilometers instead of two. To stay in service, soldiers have to run farther and with heavier packs.
Q. Which two brigades will go in the forthcoming reduction of Army brigades from 11 to nine?
A. They will be remodulated. After having thoroughly examined our experience and compared our studies with those of our allies, we have come to the conclusion that each maneuver brigade needs a cavalry regiment. For this reason, units from the Pozzuolo del Friuli brigade will be distributed elsewhere, including to the Friuli aeromobile brigade at Bologna, which will receive the Lagunari amphibious regiment. As far as the Granatieri di Sardegna mechanized brigade is concerned, the Brigade HQ will continue to exist while regiments will be moved to other brigades. In this way, we will have nine fully operational maneuver brigades that will include infantry, artillery, cavalry/ISTAR and engineering, and be able to deploy jointly in a multinational environment. Our brigades have reached this stage of capabilities and readiness thanks to the experience gained in the last 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Q. Following fatalities in Afghanistan, where Lince vehicles with manned guns overturned, Italy is introducing turrets on some vehicles. Do manned guns still have a value?
A. The Oto Melara Hitfist turret, which we are using with different caliber guns and in a grenade-launcher version, requires a joystick, and soldiers who play video games say it is easy to use, but it does require more advanced training. Ideally, I would want all vehicles to have the turret as well as an opening if required. As it is, 50 percent of vehicles with turrets would be ideal, and by the end of 2013, we should have about 100 Linces equipped with turrets in Afghanistan, with more being sent out as they are produced.
Q. Where are you with the deployment of the Spike missile and the Toplite targeting system?
A. I hope that Spike will be going to Afghanistan for use on the Mangusta [attack helicopters] by year’s end to replace the TOW missile in use. Likewise for use on the Freccia [fighting vehicle], while we are also working on integrating it on the Lince as well as on the Dardo tracked vehicle, if funds become available.
We are watching the Israeli work on the so-called mini-Spike. We have been testing the Toplite on the AW129 helicopter, which remains our top priority in Afghanistan. Having them combined with UAVs is the best capability we can have, and, as they fly low, they target the source of hostile fire and limit collateral damage.
Q. How are you organizing the reduction of equipment in Afghanistan as the mission is run down? And can you call the mission a success?
A. The pullout will continue beyond 2014 and benefit from an accord Italy recently signed with Kazakhstan for transporting materiel.
I am completely satisfied with what has been achieved by Italian forces in Herat. In 2005 and 2006, I was in Kabul, and the Afghan Army did not exist. Now it is 200,000 strong with 180,000 police. That is immense.
Green-on-blue incidents must be considered in the context of this speed.
It is important not to leave Afghanistan isolated after 2014 — if it is, it might collapse.
Q. Has the Army equipped every vehicle in Afghanistan with the Guardian IED jamming system as it planned to? And what is the future for anti-IED systems?
A. We now have enough IED jamming systems to provide security to each vehicle or convoy moving in Afghanistan. But I see effective protection against IEDs also coming from visual checks, radar and UAVs to check disturbed soil or an area strangely devoid of activity.
In July of this year, the first road clearance packages using Iveco VTMM vehicles, which offer ground radar and pushed decoys, will have completed testing in Italy.
I first saw vehicles with V-shaped hulls in Mozambique in 1993, and they remain obligatory today, as well as suspended seats which do not absorb blasts. Intelligence also remains a crucial factor.
Q. What will the next mission Italy undertakes require from the Italian Army?
A. I do not believe we will have become “Afghanized.” During three years in Lebanon, I saw that the requirements there were the same. I have a feeling that the next mission, as proven by our experience in Afghanistan, will achieve major results only through the involvement of local security forces. The accent will be on speed. Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan have all proved the need to get in and give responsibility to local forces as fast as possible.
• Total military spending for 2013: 14.4 billion euros ($18.7 billion)
• Personnel: 103,000
• Brigades: 11
• Recent missions: Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan
Source: Defense News research