On Dec. 22, a press release from Alenia Aeronautica announced the agreement reached by the Finmeccanica company and the Direzione Generale Armamenti Aeronautici (General Management for Aeronautical Armaments) of the Defence Ministry, for the supply of 4 ATR72MP (Maritime Patrol) aircraft, medium-range, twin-engine turbine airplanes that will replace the Sigonella based Br.1150 Atlantic of the 41° Stormo. The new aircraft, will be delivered to the Aeronautica Militare starting from 2012 and will be employed in maritime patrol missions. Since the press release doesn’t mention it, the new version developed ad-hoc by Alenia for the ItAF (7 ATR42MPs are already in service with the Guardia di Finanza (Customs Police) and the Coast Guard), should be used only for surveillance, SAR (Search And Rescue) and anti-immigration purposes and will not carry antisom equipment. According to the news issued by Alenia, the new aircraft, that will have a higher endurance, will be equipped with the SELEX Galileo ATOS mission system, which integrates the Seaspray, electronic-scan surveillance radar and the EOST (Electro-Optical multi-Sensor Turret), for the identification of boats and persons at sea in any weather condition; with RWR and passive countermeasures, ESM, and with last-generation datalink and communication systems for net-centric operations supporting Link 11, Link 16 and SICRAL. Even if the ATR72MP is quite an improvement from the ATR42MP it is less capable (but also less expensive) than the ATR72 ASW order by Turkey; consequently, the Italian Air Force (and the Italian Navy, since crews on board Br.1150 are mixed), is about to loose the capability to protect maritime and commercial routes from submarine threats. However it could also represent a sort of gap filler, a means for replacing the 18 ageing Atlantic (in service since 1972) until the budget will be available for a MMA (Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft), a platform that, ideally, should be the Boeing 737-based P-8A “Poseidon”, or alternatively, the same ATR72MP upgraded to the ASW version with antisom capabilities.
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