The jets are to be converted from six Gulfstream aircraft Italy already has on order, with the remainder to be converted into early warning variants, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press on the record.
The decision ends uncertainty over what the Air Force plans to do with the unconverted Gulfstream jets it ordered.
Last year, Air Force chief Gen. Luca Goretti told Defense News the service wants six aircraft converted into a mix of electronic attack and early warning versions, without providing further details.
The U.S. is currently testing the electronic attack version of the Gulfstream G550. The aircraft, known as the EC-37B Compass Call, contains electronics transferred from older EC-130H aircraft, which have been in service for decades with the U.S. Air Force and cannot manage the speed and altitude of the more modern Gulfstream.
The aircraft’s systems are designed to disrupt enemy command-and-control, communications, radars, and navigation systems.
Italy is now trying to receive U.S. approval to update its Gulfstreams to the same standard. An Italian Defence Ministry document published last month indicated such an arrangement would involve a commercial deal with American defense contractor L3Harris Technologies — which is working to integrate Compass Call electronic warfare technology into the G550 — and a foreign military sale negotiated through the U.S. government for the acquisition of the mission system.
If the U.S. approves the deal, it will enhance the capabilities of the Italian Air Force’s 10-strong Gulfstream fleet, which stemmed from the 2012 acquisition of two jets in the Conformal Airborne Early Warning format from Israel Aerospace Industries.
The jets have spent the last year flying missions close to Ukraine to monitor the airspace near the country, which is fighting a Russian invasion.
Italy also cut a deal in 2020 with the U.S. to obtain two more G550s for signals intelligence in a standard dubbed Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Electronic Warfare.
The government document released last month said Italy would pay €1.22 billion (U.S. $1.33 billion) for those two jets and the other six unconvereted G550s. A further €925 million would cover conversion work on four of the six aircraft, and another €167 million for specific work on the Compass Call conversions, the document stated.