BERLIN (Reuters) -Italy is planning to buy hundreds of tanks from Rheinmetall in what would be the German defence group’s biggest ever order, valued at around 20 billion euros ($21.50 billion), the Handelsblatt business daily reported on Wednesday, citing industry sources.

According to the plan, the Italian government would buy at least 350 Lynx armoured fighting vehicles and more than 200 Panther main battle tanks in an order spread over a 15-year period, Handelsblatt reported.

Rheinmetall did not deny the report when asked for comment and said it would comment in due course.

In June, a source close to the matter said Italian defence and aerospace group Leonardo was in talks with Rheinmetall on a strategic alliance for tanks.

A Leonardo spokesman declined to comment on the Handelsblatt report, saying the matter was in the hands of the Italian government.

There was no immediate response to a request for a comment from the Italian government.

Shares in Leonardo surged 3.5% following the report and traded up 2.2% at 0745 GMT.

Rheinmetall is targeting record sales of 10 billion euros this year as its order books grow due to boosted defence spending in Europe in response to the war in Ukraine.

($1 = 0.9312 euros)

(Reporting by Matthias Inverardi, Gavin Jones, writing by Miranda Murray and Cristina Carlevaro, Editing by Rachel More, Louise Heavens and Tomasz Janowski)

Brought to you by www.srnnews.com