The Italian Minister of Defence Roberta Pinotti paid a visit to Pakistan yesterday and had met with defence minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif as well as the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Raheel Sharif.
According to the Associated Press of Pakistan, defence minister Pinotti had discussed various matters of mutual interest with her Pakistani counterparts. These included counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, defence production, and regional stability and security.
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Italy has been one of Pakistan’s regular defence suppliers. In 2013, the two countries had signed an accord – named the Strategic Engagement Plan (SEP) – to cement cooperation in defence as well as other fields, such as education and development.
The last major big-ticket acquisition between the two countries was the sale of the MBDA Spada 2000 Plus short to medium-range surface-to-air missile system (SAM) to Pakistan. Under a $475 million U.S. contract, Pakistan had procured 10 Spada 2000 Plus SAM batteries comprised of 750 Aspide 2000 missiles, RAC-3D air surveillance radars, and maintenance as well as testing infrastructure.
Prior to this, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) also acquired Selex ES Falco unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) purposes. The Falco UAV was deployed to the Tribal Areas in 2010-2011 as part of Pakistan’s counterinsurgency (COIN) efforts.
In May, the Government of Pakistan selected the Leonardo AW139 utility helicopter for its search and rescue and emergency medical services requirements. A batch of four helicopters was ordered in August, and additional batch orders over the coming years – if not months – is expected.
There have not been any big-ticket acquisitions in recent years. However, there could be scope for defence cooperation with all three of Pakistan’s service arms.
During the 2015 Paris Air Show, the PAF had remarked that the Leonardo (then known as Finmeccanica) Vixen line of active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radars were being considered for use on the forthcoming JF-17 Block-III. It is not known to what extent the Vixen line is being considered today, but other subsystems, such as the Skyward-G infrared search and track (IRST) system, could be of interest.
The Pakistan Army is currently evaluating the Beretta ARX-200 7.62x51mm battle rifle as part of its future standard rifle requirement. Interestingly, Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF) had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with an Italian industrial vendor in June, potentially to assist POF in its efforts to upgrade its manufacturing facilities.
It is not known to what extent the Pakistan Navy would be interested in dealing with the Italian defence industry. However, should the Navy’s hopes to acquire four corvettes from Turkey come to fruition, MBDA Italy may examine an opportunity to push its parent company’s range of naval munitions technology. In fact, the idea of Leonardo keeping an eye on the Navy’s Sea King helicopters could also be plausible.