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Jerusalem, Rome finalize defense trade: Italian choppers for Israeli missiles

Under major deal first announced last year, Israeli Air Force to receive 12 training helicopters in exchange for Spike anti-tank missiles and chopper simulators

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

An Italian AW119KX training helicopter, 12 of which were purchased by Israel as apart of a defense trade agreement with Rome on September 23, 2020. (Defense Ministry)
An Italian AW119KX training helicopter, 12 of which were purchased by Israel as apart of a defense trade agreement with Rome on September 23, 2020. (Defense Ministry)

Israel and Italy finalized a major exchange of military hardware on Wednesday in which Jerusalem agreed to sell Spike anti-tank guided missiles and aircraft simulators in exchange for training helicopters to replace the Israeli Air Force’s aging fleet, the Defense Ministry said.

The outline of the deal was first announced last February, including an initial sale of seven Italian training helicopters, and over the past year and a half the two sides have negotiated the exact terms of the reciprocal agreement.

Under the deal, Italy will sell an additional five AW119KX training helicopters, manufactured by Italy’s Leonardo S.p.A., as well as two simulators for the IAF’s flight school. In exchange, Israel will sell Italy an unspecific number of Rafael Advanced Defense System’s Spike launchers and missiles, along with “advanced simulators for a number of helicopter models in the Italian military, from a company established in partnership between Leonardo and [Israel’s] Elbit Systems,” the Defense Ministry said.

The dozen AW119KX helicopters will replace the air force’s fleet of Bell 206 “Sayfan” helicopters, which have been in use for nearly 50 years.

Defense Ministry Director-General Amir Eshel signs a defense trade agreement with Italy, alongside Head of Production and Procurement, Avi Dadon, left, and Head of the International Defense Cooperation Directorate, Yair Kulas, right, on September 23, 2020. (Defense Ministry)

“The agreement signed today is another expression of the close security and economic relations between Israel and Italy. It enables the IDF to complete the replacement of the old training aircraft in the IAF,” Defense Ministry Director-General Amir Eshel said in a statement.

The deal continues an agreement signed in 2011 between Israel and Italy, in which Jerusalem purchased 30 training aircraft in exchange for a reconnaissance satellite and two airborne early warning systems.

Due to coronavirus restrictions, the signing ceremony was held remotely, with Eshel signing in Israel and his Italian counterpart, National Armaments Director Nicolò Falsaperna, signing in Rome.

US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, right, with Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Pentagon, Washington, September 22, 2020. (Shmulik Almani/Defense Ministry)

“I welcome the completion of this agreement, which reflects our close and important cooperation with the Italian Ministry of Defense over the years. The completion of this agreement is essential for the training of IAF helicopter pilots and for the development of Israel’s economy,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said of the deal from Washington, where he is meeting with American officials.

The deal is estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars and includes 20 years of aircraft maintenance from Italian contractor Leonardo, though the exact value was not immediately released by the Defense Ministry.

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