Freedom News

Italy: Strategic resistance to the arms industry

With exports up 86%, disarming companies like Leonardo and Fincantieri gains global importance

From Umanità Nova

The growing rearmament of the countries of the European continent is now evident even to the average citizen. With the winds of war blowing from Eastern Europe and the Middle East, European countries are rushing to purchase fighter planes, frigates, tanks, missiles, drones and advanced electronic warfare systems. According to SIPRI, arms imports by European states were 94 per cent higher in 2019–23 than in 2014–18. In 2023 European arms imports increased by 13%, over half from the US. NATO countries absorb just over a third of US arms exports, with 28% to European NATO countries. Another 35% of US exports went to the Middle East, in particular to Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait. 4.7% was allocated to Ukraine — which increased arms imports by 6,633%.

Russia budgeted $86.4 billion for military spending, supported by the supply of drones from Iran and ballistic missiles from North Korea. Iran, despite managing just 0.2% of global arms sales, saw its exports rise by 276%. Three-quarters of Iranian business is with Moscow. Tehran is also the only official supplier of armaments to the Yemeni Houthis. Since last year, the Houthis have been launching missiles and drones from Yemen against cargo ships headed for Israel.

With the war in Ukraine Russia’s arms exports fell by 53%. It has been narrowly overtaken in second place by France, which increased exports by 47% compared to the previous 4-year period. While Germany and the UK both reduced their exports by 14%, Italy’s have increased a staggering 86 per-cent and it is now the sixth largest arms exporter in the world.

According a report published by the Chamber of Deputies, Italy’s turnover with European Union countries reached 61.5 billion euro. Italy sells warplanes (for 991 million), rockets and torpedoes (558.7 million), armored vehicles (546.5 million) and electronic equipment (350.48 million). Italian company Leonardo S.p.A (which is 30.2% state-owned) has recently signed an agreement for the delivery of twenty four M-346 transonic jets to the Nigerian Air Force, beating fierce Chinese/Pakistani competition and undermining the Chinese industry that produces the JF-17. Leonardo will also provide Nigeria with fleet maintenance support for a minimum of 25 years. Its role is part of the plan to modernize the African country’s armed forces to face the Islamist insurrection and to establish itself as a guardian in that region.

Photo: Gian Marco Anzellotti

The M-346 will be integrated in its advanced pilot training capability, as well as a multi-role aircraft for close air support, air interception and tactical reconnaissance. Its qualification as an advanced trainer and light fighter means that it is the optimal choice for air forces that do not have extensive means, but still want to be able to perform all the functions of a modern military air force.

According to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, Leonardo has been the main supplier of helicopters to the UK military. Its UK business includes what used to be Westland Helicopters, which became part of AgustaWestland and is now Leonardo Helicopters, as well as substantial military electronics, cyber-security, and space business.

The future is underwater

Times of war pushed the Italian war industry into a major restructuring. Leonardo is preparing to sell its Wass industrial branch to Italian shipbuilding giant Fincantieri, with CEO Roberto Cingolani stating it is a matter of “days and not months”. Certainly this transaction is controlled by the Italian State, which is the largest shareholder in the company. The shipbuilding company had been interested in Wass, the underwater division of Leonardo, for years. Already when under the management of Giuseppe Bono, who the Draghi government replaced with Pierroberto Folgiero, there was talk of Wass’s move to Fincantieri.

The Whitehead Alenia Sistemi Subacquei (WASS) plant, based in Livorno, produces heavy and light torpedoes and anti-torpedo countermeasures for submarines, and sonar systems for underwater surveillance. It has around 450 employees. Decades ago it was a mixed public-private company, held between Finmeccanica (Leonardo’s state-owned predecessor) and Fiat. In particular, Wass is responsible for the development of the Black Shark torpedoes, which will equip the U212 NFS submarines of the Italian Navy made by Fincantieri. Another product is the Mu90 light torpedo.

WASS workers oppose the factory’s sale, but not military production. Photo: Penna in Movimento

The agreement under discussion with Fincantieri does not include Oto Melara (manufacturer of naval guns), which Leonardo aims to develop with the new orders expected from the army to renovate the fleet of Ariete heavy tanks and Dardo light armored vehicles, through agreements with other foreign groups (there are negotiations with the Franco-German Knds and contacts with the German Rheinmetall). Wass is no longer part of Leonardo’s strategy, while Fincantieri could integrate the production of submarines and armament with torpedoes.

Fincantieri has long judged the submarine market to be an emerging target for major investment, albeit that most of the growth is in the civilian sector. Fincantieri believes the future is underwater and is working to position itself to take advantage of emerging defense and commercial markets. “The submarine will be what space was 40 years ago”, the company’s CEO told Breaking Defense during a recent visit to Washington. Although it is relatively early days, there will be a big push for dual-use technologies, a development that Fincantieri wants to anticipate.

Italy will find itself at the center of the evolution of submarine warfare, manned and unmanned. Historically the Peninsula has a long submarine tradition. Italy has therefore also developed a very considerable knowledge in the use of submarine incursion means, first with the infamous X MAS and then with the Consubin. Italy currently has eight attack submarines in service, none of them nuclear-powered. These are four of the Todaro class, S212, built in collaboration with Germany, and four of the Nazario Sauro class. It should be added that Fincantieri has signed a protocol with SAIPEM for the development of underwater drones for the control of gas and oil pipelines. 

Resistance in Palermo and beyond

Resorting to war and militarization would seem to be the only viable option; the war in Ukraine has weakened the European Union economically, industrially and politically. A major rearmament plan is taking place in Germany, and in Italy Leonardo and Fincantieri are at the forefront in the production of war vehicles and are the leading industries of the country’s economy.

The large mobilizations seen from Palermo, Turin and the universities against Leonardo S.p.A. and Fincantieri have indicated the path to follow to reverse the wicked industrial choices dictated by easy profit, even if this generates war, death and destruction. The battle, which has grown considerably in the last two years, for the reconversion of the Italian war industry (which also includes companies like Beretta, Fiocchi and IVECO) into an industry of peace and well-being, today acquires a value of extreme strategic importance for the whole movement against war and militarization.

Demonstration against Leondardo S.p.A. in Bacoli. Photo: Pozzuoli News24

The finger pointing at Leonardo and Fincantieri alarmed the repressive apparatus of the State, which promptly rushed to the defense of the leading industry of the Italian economy. Hundreds of gendarmes have been mobilized to defend the factories indicted by the movement during the anti-militarist mobilizations of recent months. The repressive apparatus of the State has also devised baseless accusations to attack the anti-war movement, by issuing judicial notices to ANTUDO activists for having posted a video showing the throwing of an incendiary bottle at the gate of the Leonardo factory in Palermo. It has also issued an arrest order for Luigi Spera, accused without tangible evidence of being responsible for the arson

Judicial measures, like a time bomb, were triggered just when the movement as a whole identified Leonardo S.p.A as one of the major culprits in the sale of instruments of death, and identified the Guadagna factory on the southern outskirts of Palermo as one of the nerve centers for the production of electronic warfare systems used in the various theaters of war.

~ Renato Franzitta

Top image: Scirocco collective

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