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Italian Defence Industry Heads Visit Pakistan

On 17 October 2019, the Pakistan Navy’s (PN) Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi officially met with the President of the Italian Companies for Aerospace, Defence and Security (AIAD) – Guido Crosetto – and the CEO of MBDA Italy, Pasquale Di Bartolomeo.

According to Italy’s Ambassador to Pakistan, Stefano Pontecorvo, the PN CNS and the heads of AIAD and MBDA Italy ‘made progress on a number of issues.’

The following day, the PN CNS also met with the Defence and National Armaments Director of Italy, Lt. General Nicolo Falsaperna (Pakistan Navy ISPR). Lt. General Falsaperna also serves as the Deputy Secretary General of the Secretariat General of Defence and National Armaments Directorate, which promotes the Italian defence industry to domestic and overseas markets.

Lt. General Falsaperna also paid a visit to Air Headquarters (AHQ) in Islamabad, and met with the Vice Chief of Air Staff of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF, Air Marshal Aasim Zaheer.

Notes & Comments

The purpose of these official visits was not disclosed, but it is unlikely a high-level engagement of this type – especially one involving the CEO of MBDA Italy– is without commercial intent.

The visit by MBDA Italy is particularly interesting as they are a manufacturer of munitions, such as surface-to-air missiles (SAM) and air-to-air missiles (AAM). In 2013, the PAF contracted MBDA Italy to supply 10 Spada 2000-Plus short-to-medium-range SAM systems. However, with MBDA Italy meeting the CNS, it is possible that talks are underway to supply new munitions to the PN.

Alternatively, the recent meetings could also be in reference to deals already in the books. Unbeknownst to many, Pakistan was not only Italy’s second-biggest arms importer in 2018, but it booked orders worth €682.9 million (i.e., $761.88 million US), following only Qatar at €1.9 billion.

Note, these figures were all reported by Italian newspapers (Il Sole 24 Ore, Corriere Della Sera, etc), but they cite official Italian government data (a copy of the official report is available here).

According to the source report, Pakistan’s arms orders from Italy were €174.1 million US in 2017. In other words, the orders made in 2018 were 3-4X bigger than in 2017. However, the report provides only vague details as to what Italy is exporting to Pakistan, but it apparently includes unknown quantities of various small arms, guided missiles/munitions, land vehicles, aircraft, and training.

Leonardo completed the sale of AW139 search-and-rescue (SAR) helicopters to the PAF in 2017 (enabling the PAF to replace the Alouette III in the SAR role). The Pakistan Army is also procuring mothballed M109L self-propelled howitzers (SPH) from Italian Army stocks. However, these programs were largely concluded in 2017 and 2018, which means they must have been signed in earlier years.

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