Italy to send second air defence system to Ukraine, foreign minister says

FILE PHOTO: Soldiers present an anti-missile system SAMP/T by Thales at an international military fair in Kielce

ROME (Reuters) -Italy will send a second SAMP/T air defence system to Ukraine, its foreign minister said in a radio interview on Monday, responding to Kyiv's pleas for greater help to fend off Russian missile attacks.

The system, also known as MAMBA, is a Franco-Italian battery that can track dozens of targets and intercept 10 at once. It is the only European-made system that can intercept ballistic missiles.

Rome and Paris jointly delivered a first system in 2023, but in recent months Ukraine has repeatedly called on partners to provide more help with air defence as it faces an increasing barrage of attacks on cities and energy infrastructure.

"It is known that we will send SAMP/T, which is an instrument of air defence, therefore of protection, that Ukraine itself asked us for," Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani told state broadcaster Rai, confirming earlier media reports.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Italy has approved eight support packages to the government of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Tajani said the SAMP/T will be part of a ninth package under preparation, but did not give a time frame for delivery.

All shipments have so far been covered by official secrecy and the government has never made public the exact list of weapons it has sent to Ukraine.

A source close to the matter told Reuters earlier that Italy would likely ship to Ukraine a SAMP/T system which is currently deployed in Kuwait, but is soon due to return to Italy.

Corriere della Sera newspaper reported on Monday that the government could green light the new supplies after a summit of leaders of the Group of Seven major democracies, which Italy will host on June 13-15.

G7 foreign ministers pledged in April to provide more air defence help to Ukraine during a meeting Italy hosted on the island of Capri, saying they were committed to saving lives and safeguarding critical infrastructure.

(Reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Crispian Balmer, Mark Potter and Bill Berkrot)