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Italy’s New Defence Plan: Nuclear Readiness Exercises, New German Tanks and Billions in Expenditures

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Written By: Vittorio Ippolito

Edited by Alex Marchan

Supervised by Ginevra Bertamini

The commitment of Prime Minister Meloni to military spending became tangible after the Defence Ministry released, with an unusual delay of six months, its budget projections for 2023-2025 (Mazziotti di Celso, 2023). Integrated expenditures for defence are set to reach an all-time high of €31.4 billion in 2025, a €2 billion increase from 2022 (Italian Ministry of Defence, 2023). Italian expenses for procurement are expected to rise by 43% in the next two years, with €4.6 billion allocated to thirteen new military programmes (Domingo, 2023; Mazziotti di Celso, 2023). 90% of this sum will be exclusively destined for armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) purchases and modernisation (Mazziotti di Celso, 2023). Rome also recently celebrated with grandeur the 100th anniversary of its Air Force (Italian Air Force, 2023). Overall, this has been a truly remarkable year for Italian defence.

Figure 1 – An Italian Eurofighter Typhoon manuevering during the Centenary celebration in Pratica di Mare, 
Rome (2023). Photo by the author.

Speaking of Air Forces, Italy is currently hosting NATO’s Steadfast Noon ten-day-long nuclear readiness exercise which started on October 16, only weeks after EU’s MILEX 23. According to NATO, this was a long-planned exercise not correlated with the Ukrainian situation that did not involve live nuclear warheads, but only nuclear-capable aircraft (NATO, 2023; Agenzia Nova, 2023). Up to 60 planes are conducting exercises over the Tyrrhenian Sea departing from the air bases of Ghedi, Aviano, Amendola, Gioia del Colle and Trapani (Desk Aeronautico, 2023; Itamilradar, 2023). Also, B61 nuclear bombs stationed in Ghedi and Aviano under NATO’s nuclear sharing programme are set to be upgraded by the upcoming B61-12 generation, now compatible with Rome’s new US-made F-35 fighters (The Italian Insider, 2023).

For what concerns land forces, Italy is looking to acquire 21 battle-proven M142 HIMARS rocket artillery from the United States and several hundreds of AICS Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) for a projected expenditure of €16 billion in the next fourteen years (Kington, 2023; Italian Ministry of Defence, 2023; Italian Defence Technology, 2023). Furthermore, Rome is set to buy an estimated amount of 133 Leopard 2A8 main battle tanks (MBTs) in a 14-year investment of up to €8 billion (Kington, 2023; Italian Ministry of Defence, 2023). As examined in a previous InfoFlash (Ippolito, 2023b) many EU countries, especially in the east, adopted this MBT, with Italy being the largest European power to do so except Germany itself. 

On the matter of future EU-wide initiatives, Rome also reaffirmed its will to join the Franco-German Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) European MBT project after a separate venture with Berlin and others was briefly rumoured (Italian Ministry of Defence, 2023; Ippolito, 2023a). A further €5 billion was allocated to the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) collaboration with the UK and Japan for a 6th generation fighter. Remarkably, Italy will also start experimenting soon with drone-swarming technology (Domingo, 2023). 

Rome’s new budget will provide the Italian army with vast resources for its modernisation efforts, although some experts stressed the importance of funding exercise and investments to assure proper maintenance and operation of these newly acquired means (Mazziotti di Celso, 2023). ISS reports that in 2022 Italy spent €182 thousand for each solider, while the smaller British army spent 469€ thousand, meaning that the Italian army could use the 2023 military budget as a starting point to work on the size and funding of its future forces (Mazziotti di Celso, 2023). Experts also noted that, in 2022, Rome unusually included personnel retirement funds in the 1.51 military budget / GDP ratio reported to NATO (Martinelli, 2022; Mazziotti di Celso, 2023). 

Ultimately, the acquisition of powerful land equipment is a long-awaited step forward that signals a reprioritisation of Rome’s eastern strategy aligned with EU and allied concerns. Considering Meloni’s words, though, more remains to be seen on how Italy will fare in managing its newly acquired resources. 


Agenzia Nova. (2023, October 16). NATO: nuclear exercises began in Italy, Croatia and the Mediterranean. Agenzia Nova.,-NATO%20Secretary%20General&text=NATO%20today%20kicked%20off%20the,Italy%2C%20Croatia%20and%20Sea%20Mediterranean

Desk Aeronautico. (2023, October 15). S34/23: esercitazione militare “Steadfast Noon 2023”. Desk Aeronautico.

Domingo, J. (2023, October 20). Italy’s Budget Outlines Massive Defence Upgrades. The Defense Post.

Ippolito, V. (2023a, September 25). Germany Back with France on MGCS after Rumours of a Separate Tank Project with Italy, Spain and Sweden. Finabel – European Army Interoperability Centre.

Ippolito, V. (2023b, October 10). Eastern EU Members Rearm after the Russian Invasion: Soaring Military Expenditures, Tank Modernisation and Two New Rising Axes of Army Interoperability. Finabel – European Army Interoperability Centre.

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Italian Ministry of Defence. (2023) Documento Programmatico Pluriennale della Difesa per il Triennio 2023-2025.

Itamilradar. (2023, October 19). NATO nuclear exercise “Steadfast Noon” in progress. Itamilradar.

Kington, T. (2023, October 18). Italy unveils weapons wish list, forecasts defense spending. Defense News.

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Mazziotti di Celso, M. (2023, October 18). Dove e come investe la difesa italiana? Riflessioni sul DPP 2023-2025.

NATO. (2023, October 13). NATO holds long-planned annual nuclear exercise.

Stathatos, G. (2023, January 11). New nuclear bombs arrive for F-35s. The Italian Insider.