By: Tom Kington
ROME — As consensus grows in Italy that military planners need better access to civilian technology, a new law is being proposed to give the country its own version of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
The new bill, which its authors claim has backing from the military and Italy's political parties, envisages the setup of a new agency able to stimulate and coordinate the development of civil technologies for military application.
“We want to make the newest technology more accessible,” said Alessandra Maiorino, the Italian senator who is steering the bill through parliament.
Established in 1958 in response to the Soviet Union launching its Sputnik satellite the year before, DARPA has since teamed with universities, corporations and government partners to fund research programs to improve America's defense capabilities.
Technologies it has worked on have also fed back into civilian applications, notably the internet, voice recognition and small GPS receivers.
“Thanks to the DARPA system, avangard civilian technologies are considered to have strategic value. This in turn has a cascade effect on the economy and on innovation in the U.S.,” according to the Italian bill.
The bill calls for the new Italian agency to be based near Pisa at an existing military research facility. An eight-person management board would include a military director, three civilian researchers and representatives from the four government ministries involved — the Department of Treasury, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Economic Development, and the Ministry for Education, University and Research.
The Joint Centre for Innovation and Strategic Technologies, known by its Italian acronym CINTES, will now be discussed in the Senate's Defence Committee, where representatives from the military, academia and industry will be invited to give their opinions, said Maiorino.
The bill does not cite the required funding for the agency — a figure which has yet to be decided. However, it claims that Italy must quickly set up its own version of DARPA to keep up with France and Germany, who are already ahead in launching such an agency.
The bill claims France's Innovation Défense Lab is now “allowing France's DGA procurement agency to map out and evaluate civilian technologies and acquire those which are of interest to the defense sector.”
Germany's planned ADIC agency is cited in the bill as an example of the government investigating “disruptive” technologies in cybernetics and other key technologies.
Maiorino, the senator backing the bill in Italy, is a member of the Five Star party, which has previously taken a unfavourable approach to defense investment. Before entering government in 2018, the party called for the cancellation of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.
As such, the party's support for the new bill reflects a progressively more positive view of the defense sector since it entered government.