Tag: Aeronautica Militare

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Here Are The Photos Of The First Ever Intercept Of A Russian Aircraft By F-35 Under NATO Command In The Baltics

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F-35 intercept An-12
An Italian Air Force F-35 fighter aircraft intercepting a Russian An-12 on 14 May 2021. This was the first intercept a modern fighter aircraft executed in the Baltic Sea region as part of the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission. Italy has augmented the collective Allied mission safeguarding the skies above Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since beginning of May 2021. Photo by Italian Air Force (all rights reserved).

We have obtained the photos of the first intercept by F-35s supporting NATO Baltic Air Policing mission last month.

As already reported, the Italian Air Force F-35 aircraft deployed to Ämari Air Base, Estonia, to support NATO’s Baltic Air Policing (BAP) mission, carried out their first intercept on May 14, 2021.

The Lightning II jets, belonging to the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing), from Amendola Air Base, in southeastern Italy, were scrambled after the Combined Air Operations Centre at Uedem, Germany, detected an unidentified track in the Baltic Sea flying from mainland Russia to Kaliningrad. Upon take off, the F-35s in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) approached and identified a Russian An-12 transport aircraft flying in international airspace off Estonia.

Initially, no official photo of the intercepted Russian aircraft was released. “Actually, unlike the majority of the other allies, Italy rarely releases images of the “zombies” (as the targets of the intercept mission are called in fighter pilot lingo) taken by the Italian pilots during their QRA launches in support of NATO’s Enhanced Air Policing missions around Europe,” this Author commented back then.

However, responding to a request we submitted immediately after the news of the intercept had been released, NATO Allied Air Command has eventually provided us two images showing one of the two Italian F-35s escorting the An-12 over the Baltics: nothing special to be honest, since the configuration of the Lightning was standard (with RCS enhancers and no external air-to-air missile launchers) and the “zombie” was just a “Cub” transport plane, still interesting, as they represent the only photo evidence of the first ever intercept of an F-35 under NATO command in the Baltics for the records.

Noteworthy, you can also see the pretty distinctive wingtip vortices (similar to contrails) generated by the F-35.

The flaperon and wingtip vortices have long been subject of discussion here at The Aviationist. GAO claimed that these could affect the aircraft’s stealth performance; others suggest these visible “tubes of circulating air which are left behind the aircraft’s wing as it generates lift” may make the aircraft more easily picked up visually by an enemy pilot in a WVR (Within Visual Range) engagement even though some pilots have explained that they are not a factor because if you are close enough to see the F-35’s vortices, you are probably close enough to see the jet. True, although some images taken from the ground and posted online recently of F-35s trailing a tanker indeed seem to confirm that, under certain conditions, those vortices may highlight the presence of the jet from several miles away.

F-35 intercept An-12
An Italian Air Force F-35 fighter aircraft intercepting a Russian An-12 on 14 May 2021. This was the first intercept a modern fighter aircraft executed in the Baltic Sea region as part of the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission. Italy has augmented the collective Allied mission safeguarding the skies above Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since beginning of May 2021. Photo by Italian Air Force (all rights reserved).

The Italian F-35s deployed to Estonia, on Apr. 30, 2021; on May 3, the Italian detachment officially took over the augmenting role in NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission from the German Air Force Eurofighter detachment, starting providing QRA duties.

The Italian F-35s will remain in Estonia for the BAP mission until August, supporting “Baltic Eagle II” (as the mission has been dubbed at national level), operating within the Task Group Falco of the Task Force Air Estonia. The F-35s will then be replaced by the Italian Typhoons as the plan calls for Italy to support NATO BAP in Estonia until the end of 2021.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Here Are All The Special Tail Liveries Of The Italian Frecce Tricolori

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Frecce Special Tails
All the Frecce Tricolori special tails. (All images: Giovanni Maduli)

The new special tails celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Italian Air Force Frecce Tricolori display team.

On Jun. 1, 2021, the Frecce Tricolori display team deployed to Pratica di Mare Air Base, ahead of the traditional June 2 flyover of Rome for Italy’s Republic Day. The arrival at the airbase located near Rome provided an interesting opportunity to observe all the new special tail liveries applied to 6 of the team’s MB-339A/PAN MLU aircraft, to celebrate the Frecce’s 60th anniversary.

Indeed, as explained in detail in this previous post, all the aircraft assigned to the official aerobatic team of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) are going to be painted with a special tail, inspired by the display teams that represented Italy and its Air Force in the decade before the Frecce Tricolori were officially established.

For the moment the first six aircraft aircraft have been given special colors: “Pony 0”, the aircraft of the commander (that doesn’t take part in the actual show) sports the 60th anniversary logo on the tail, while Pony 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 have been adorned with symbols and markings inspired by the “Cavallino Rampante”, “Getti Tonanti”, “Tigri Bianche”, “Diavoli Rossi” and “Lancieri Neri”, the display teams that in the 1950s were given, on a rotational basis, the task of representing the Air Force at air shows and flyovers in Italy and abroad.

Our contributor Giovanni Maduli was outside Pratica di Mare and took the images of the six Frecce aircraft with the new special tails that you can find in this post.

Frecce Special Tails
Pony 0 with the 60th anniversary logo.
Frecce Special Tails
Pony 1 with the Cavallino Rampante (Prancing Horse) tail.
Frecce Special Tails
Pony 2 with the Getti Tonanti (Thunder Jets) tail.
Frecce Special Tails
Pony 3 with the “Tigri Bianche” (White Tigers) tail.
Frecce Special Tails
Pony 4 with the “Diavoli Rossi” (Red Devils) tail.
Frecce Special Tails
Pony 5 with the Lanceri Neri (Black Lancers) tail.

As already explained in the previous article, the liveries were created by the renowned Italian artist Mirco Pecorari of AircraftStudioDesign. The project calls for 11 Frecce aircraft to be given special tails: the liveries will be doubled so that the 5 liveries will be applied to 5 pairs of MB-339s with only one jet, Pony 0,  with the 60th anniversary badge.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Frecce Tricolori’s New Special Tails Celebrate The 60th Anniversary Of The Team

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Frecce Tricolori Special Tails
The five special tails of the Frecce Tricolori that celebrate the 60th anniversary of the team. (All images by Mercurio Studio – mercuriostudio.com – via Mirco Pecorari)

MB-339A/PAN aircraft of the Frecce Tricolori were given special tail markings to celebrate the team’s 60th anniversary.

On May 23, 2021, the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) unveiled five MB-339 aircraft of the Frecce Tricolori display team, sporting brand new special tail markings. The five surprise “liveries”, inspired by the Italian Air Force display teams that represented Italy and its Air Force in the decade before the Frecce Tricolori were officially established, were unveiled with a video posted on the social channels of the Aeronautica Militare.

The special tails of the five Frecce Tricolori’s aircraft have been adorned with symbols and markings inspired by the “Cavallino Rampante”, “Getti Tonanti”, “Tigri Bianche”, “Diavoli Rossi” and “Lancieri Neri”, the display teams that in the 1950s were given, on a rotational basis, the task of representing the Air Force at air shows and flyovers in Italy and abroad.

Frecce Tricolori Special Tails
The five special colors. To be followed by other 6 aircraft for a total of 11. (All images by Mercurio Studio – via Mirco Pecorari)

The liveries were created by the renowned Italian artist Mirco Pecorari of AircraftStudioDesign, who designed hundreds of liveries for aircraft all around the world (along with custom designs for cars, boats, collections etc). “I’ve re-imagined the emblems sported in the ’50s by the F-86s and F-84Fs belonging to the aerobatic display teams that preceded the Frecce Tricolori, so that they could be applied to the MB-339’s tail”, Mirco told us.

“The project calls for 11 aircraft to be given to the team’s jets: the idea is to have the 5 liveries applied to 5 pairs of MB-339s with an eleventh aircraft wearing a special tail with the 60th anniversary badge. […] Although it looks like they are painted, what you see on the tails of the aircraft are actually stickers: we have made several in-flight tests before we found out the right materials that could be installed on the aircraft, covering the existing paint, and would not be peeled off by the high-speed flying of the jets”.

Frecce Tricolori Special Tails
Mirco Pecorari of AircraftStudioDesign at the drawing board.

Before the Frecce were born.

The Capodichino-based 4° Stormo (Wing), which had recently been issued with the De Havilland DH 100 Vampire, was the first unit to be tasked with forming an aerobatic team in the aftermath of the war. This gave birth to the “Cavallino Rampante” (“Prancing Horse”) team, the denomination of which was inspired by the Wing’s heraldry. Equipped with only four aircraft, the team displayed in a 30-minute program, which included a simulation of an airfield attack and a minimum controllable airspeed pass with lowered landing gear along with some basic aerobatic manoeuvres such as loops and rolls. The team displayed for the first time in Rome on June 2, 1952, and performed its first transfer abroad to Melsbroek, Belgium, on Jul. 13 of the same year. Their success was such that the Air Force decided to follow up this type of activity.

Frecce Tricolori Special Tails
The tail of the MB-339 inspired by the “Cavallino Rampante”.

That same year, the Villafranca 5° Stormo (which became an Air Brigade in 1953) started to receive its first new Republic F-84G “Thunderjets”. With these aircraft the Unit and its three child Squadrons (the 101°, 102° and 103° Gruppo), was issued the task to form the new aerobatic team called “Guizzo” (after the 103° Gruppo radio callsign). The four “Guizzo” aircraft displayed for the first time on Apr. 14, 1953 at Villafranca airbase, followed by participation in airshows at Soesterberg (The Netherlands), Livorno, Lucca, Caselle and Centocelle and, in 1954, Madrid (Spain), Cologne and Nuremberg (Germany).

Starting from 1955, what had been until then an ad-hoc arrangement was made official: responsibility to represent the Air Force with an aerobatic team, would be assigned to each Fighter Unit on a rotating yearly basis. A team would serve as “reserve” for one year, and as “regular player” the following year.

In the meantime, in 1953, the Aviano-based 53^ Aerobrigata also gave birth to a new aerobatic team. Equipped with four F-84Gs, and initially known as “Bellagambi” Team, after its leader’s name, the team made its debut on Sept. 13, 1953, during an air show at Ferrara, where it was called on to represent the Air Force in lieu of the “Guizzo”, already engaged in Lucca. Decommissioned and re-constituted in 1955, the team was renamed “Tigri Bianche”(“White Tigers”, after the 21° Gruppo badge) and it was the first team to adopt a special livery to distinguish its aircraft from the ones in use with operational units.

Due to the involvement of the “Guizzos” in the making of the movie “I Quattro del Getto Tonante” (“The four of the thundering jet”, after the Italian translation of the F-84G nickname), a motion picture on the life of the team’s pilots, the “Tigri Bianche” performed a long series of successful exhibitions both in Italy and abroad during their first season as reserve team. Among the most important was the one performed at Tours (France), during which the four F-84 presented the downward bomb burst. Once the filming for the movie had been terminated, in 1956, the “Guizzos” changed their name to “Getti Tonanti” (Thundering Jets), taking part in some displays with a maneuver which was created especially for the shooting of the movie: the double roll.

Frecce Tricolori Special Tails
The “Getti Tonanti” MB-339.

In 1957, the representative team was the “Cavallino Rampante” from the 4^ Aerobrigata, flying the Canadair CL13 Sabre MK4 (F-86E), equipped with smoke generating devices which could be controlled by the pilots and a coloured livery which decorated the entire aircraft. Their official debut was on Mar. 27 at Pratica di Mare airbase, while their display on Aug. 31, 1957, at Rimini airbase is remembered for the introduction into the team of a fifth aircraft, joining the original four.

The effective team in 1968 was the “Diavoli Rossi” (“Red Devils”), from the 6^ Aerobrigata, flying F-84F “Thunderstreak”, which had made its debut on 11 March 1957 at Vicenza airbase when serving as the reserve team. Beginning on Mar. 15, 1958, the team displayed with five aircraft plus one solo. With their seven F-84Fs, the “Diavoli Rossi” were present at many air shows. Particularly important was the one at Aviano during which the Italian team measured itself against the “Sky Blazers”; this presentation resulted in the achievements of the “Diavoli Rossi” provoking an invitation to display in the United States in April 1959, on the occasion of the first Las Vegas World Flight Congress. During their American tour, on which the “Diavoli Rossi” flew in F-84Fs made available by the Weapons School at Luke AFB, which were painted in a slightly different scheme than their usual, the team participated in several air displays among which, their last before returning home, was that over Coney Island, in New York bay, in front of a little less than a million spectators, including thousands of Italian nationals who had emigrated to the New Continent.

Frecce Tricolori Special Tails
The original F-84F “Diavoli Rossi” livery.

Meanwhile, at Cameri, the 2^ Aerobrigata’s “Lanceri Neri” (“Black Knights”) Team was created as the official formation for 1959, equipped with six black painted CL13s on which, for the first time ever, the national tricolour appeared under the wings and on the stabilisers. The team displayed at various national and international air events and featured in the longest formation transfer made by ItAF aircraft, taking part, following the invitation from Shah of Persia, in an important air show at Teheran.

Frecce Tricolori Special Tails
The “Lanceri Neri” tail.

In 1959, the 5^ Aerobrigata’s “Getti Tonanti” returned with F-84Fs, initially flying standard colour aircraft on which only the “Goddess Diana the Hunter” logo featured, but which, beginning in the following season, and coinciding with the Rome Olympics, were decorated with the coloured rings symbol of the Olympic Games. Despite the fact that at the time the reserve role was assigned to the 4^ Aerobrigata, in 1960 the Air Force Staff decided to interrupt the team formation rotation principal in order to rationalise the employment of human resources and aircraft. The presence of two teams in two Air Brigades had become unsustainable, such was the effort in training the pilots, which diverted them from operational activity. It was thus decided to create an ad hoc unit which would be dedicated to aerobatics training.

On Jan. 16, 1961, through directive number 5567/243, the Air Staff issued a command for the constitution of the 313° Gruppo Addestramento Acrobatico, commencing on Jul. 1 of the same year, with home base in Rivolto airbase in the Udine province. In the new Squadron six CL13s were merged with four pilots from the 4^ Aerobrigata team, which in the original plan were due to have been appointed as the effective team that same year. These pilots were joined by others who had already served with the “Diavoli Rossi” and the “Tigri Bianche”. The “core” of these pilots came from the “Cavallino Rampante” team and were therefore entitled to choose the Unit’s radio call sign, which has survived until today: “Pony” – rather than “Freccia” (Italian for “Arrow”) or “Rivo” (after Rivolto), as some had suggested.

Frecce Tricolori Special Tails
Mirco Pecorari working on the special tails for the MB-339s of the Frecce Tricolori.

Previous special tails.

Back in 2015, to celebrate the 55th anniversary of the team (actually, the 55th display season) the MB-339 assigned to the Frecce Commander was the first aircraft to be painted with a special tail (with the tricolored stripes that cover the whole of it), special silhouettes of the aircraft flown by the team since 1961 (F-86, G.91 and MB.339) and was given the celebratory number #55 in yellow color (instead of the #0 carried usually sported by “Pony 0” the Commander’s plane).

The paint scheme was then applied to the rest of the aircraft and became the standard livery of the team. In the following years, only the individual number changed in position (from the central part of the tail to the rudder) and color (from yellow to black and white).

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

We Have Been To NATO Tiger Meet 2021 And Here Are The Most Interesting Aircraft We Found There.

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NATO Tiger Meet 2021 Beja
The special F-16 of the Portuguese Air Force. (All images: David Parody)

Our correspondent David Parody went to Beja, Portugal, for NATO Tiger Meet 2021.

NATO Tiger Meet (NTM) is one of Europe’s most famous and loved among the aviation enthusiasts community, multinational exercise attended by squadrons sporting Tiger (or feline) emblems. As often explained, although it usually includes Spotters/Media Day and, sometimes, an Open Day for general public, NTM is not an air show: all types of air-to-air and air-to-ground and a wide variety of support missions are part of each Tiger Meeting, whose goals are the “creation of a high-level tactical exercise, where participants can train realistically; practice day and night operations in a multi-domain environment, against air, land and sea threats; maximize integration and interoperability with NATO members & Partnership for Peace Members, and share learning points; creation of an environment promoting the well-known “Tiger Spirit”, which respects the NATO Tiger Association Traditions and Customs.”

However, the main difference between NTM and many other “traditional” exercises is that many aircraft taking part in the maneuvers, at least one (but usually more than one) per participating unit, sport Tiger markings, Special Tails or flamboyant tiger-themed paint schemes.

This year’s edition, NTM 21, organized by the Portuguese Air Force, is underway from May 2 to May 14, 2021,  at Air Base No. 11 (BA11), in Beja. The Portuguese airbase was planned to host the NTM in 2020, but the exercise last year was cancelled because of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Commanding Officer, Major Driller, of 301 Squadron.

NTM21 host unit is the Squadron 301 “Jaguares” of the Portuguese Air Force. At NTM 2019, which took place in Mont-de-Marsan, France, the Portuguese unit, flying the F-16 was awarded both the “Silver” trophy Tiger ”and the“ Tiger Spirit ”award.

NTM 2021 is underway at Beja AB, Portugal.

Nine “Tiger” squadrons from 8 allied nations for a total of more than 50 aircraft and around 1,000 military personnel are scheduled to take part in this year’s Tiger Meet that, as usual, will also be supported by several “external” units, including Esquadra 751, performing troop insertion with its EH-101 Merlin helicopters; and the civilian Cobham Aviation with its Special Mission Falcon 20 jet.

Portuguese F16 MLU with squadrons 50 anniversary tail.

The Game Plan

The NTM’s program is basically always the same: two waves are flown, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The first ones are usually the most complex COMAO (Composite Air Operations) and the second ones are the so-called Shadow/Panther missions (the first are performed during the day the second are night missions), smaller scale events which usually involve junior pilots. There are also some night operations, this year planned on May 4, 5 and 6, 2021.

Portuguese F16 MLU with squadrons 50 anniversary tail.

COMAO missions cover the entire spectrum of air operations with broad force involvement as part of the same package: from the air defense of a specific area to the offensive operations against all types of targets (both maritime and land), all the missions require the participants to cooperate and face threats to ingress and egress a simulated contested airspace.

Swiss Air Force F/A-18C Hornet with NTM tail.

Shadow and Panther missions are smaller scale missions, where specific operations will be trained. Some examples are: CAS (Close Air Support), in coordination with ground troops; Vehicle Interdiction or Hostage Rescue, where a helicopter will command the operation with the support of fighters; Basic Fighter Maneuvers (BFM) and DACT (Dissimilar Air Combat Training).

The Italian special Eurofighter Typhoon.
Tiger tail.

Tiger Meetings also offer some nice exchange opportunity for aircrew to fly orientation missions aboard allied aircraft.

Media Day

On May 3, 2021, our contributor David Parody had the opportunity to attend the Media Day at Beja and shoot the photographs you can find in this article.

Among the most interesting, eye-catching liveries of NTM 21, we can’t but mention the one of the Italian Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon with the 12° Gruppo (Squadron) with the Siberian/White Tiger as well as the host nation’s F-16 MLU jets: the full Tiger special color of the Esq 301 along with the other F-16 Viper sporting the 50th anniversary tail.

The Tiger-themed F-2000A of the Italian Air Force.
Polish Air Force F-16C Block 52+
Swiss Air Force F/A-18C Hornet with NTM tail landing after a mission.
Greek Air Force F-16C Block 52+ with NTM paint scheme.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

The Italian F-35As Have Deployed To Estonia For NATO’s Baltic Air Policing Mission

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Italian F-35 Estonia
Two Italian Air Force F-35As. (Image credit: Author)

It’s the first time 5th generation aircraft take part in BAP mission.

On Apr. 30, 2021, four Italian Air Force F-35A Lightning II jets landed at Amari Air Base, Estonia, to take over the NATO’s BAP (Baltic Air Policing) mission. It’s the first time the Italian stealth jets deploy to Estonia (even though the Italian Eurofighter Typhoons operated there for BAP in 2018) and also the first time that 5th generation aircraft support NATO’s mission in the Baltic States.

The Italian F-35s belong to the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing) from Amendola Air Base, in southeastern Italy, and their deployment to Estonia was supported by a KC-767A tanker, flying as IAM1447 (and tracking online), from Pratica di Mare Air Base.

As part of the “Baltic Eagle II” mission, the Italian F-35A aircraft, operating within the Task Group Falco of the Task Force Air Estonia will replace the German Air Force Eurofighters which have been deployed to Amari since late August.

At the same time, after leading BAP for 8 months, the Italian Typhoons have completed their rotation at Siauliai, Lithuania.

Although it’s the first time they operate from Estonia, the Italian Air Force F-35A jets have already supported NATO Air Policing mission in Iceland twice: the first time in 2019, the second in 2020, when the Italian Lightnings scrambled for the first time to intercept a formation of three Russian Tu-142s.

In case you are wondering why the F-35A, that is not a “pure” interceptor, is committed to provide QRA (Quick Reaction Alert), an air defense mission in Estonia and the Batlic States, here’s the explanation this Author provided in a previous article about the participation of the Italian Lightnings to the Icelandic Air Policing mission:

Well, the reason is quite simple: deploying the 5th gen. stealth aircraft under NATO command allows the service (in this case, the Italian Air Force) to test the asset as part of a different chain of command, with different procedures, on a different base, and in different (sometimes adverse/austere) weather conditions. The peacetime air policing mission requires the aircraft in QRA to scramble with live air-to-air missiles when there is the need to intercept, identify and escort, aircraft approaching or “skirting” NATO Ally’s sovereign airspace: a task that an F-35 is more than able to conduct. Moreover, the deployment on a NATO mission is one of the milestones the Italian Air Force has set along the path to achieve the type’s FOC ( BTW, it’s worth remembering that, first in Europe, the Italians declared the F-35’s IOC on Nov. 30, 2018).

This time the ItAF F-35s will provide QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) from Estonia, much closer to Russia.

Previous U.S. F-35 trip to Estonia.

Dealing with the F-35 and Estonia, it’s worth remembering what happened in April 2017, when two U.S. Air Force F-35As belonging to the 34th Fighter Squadron, from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, deployed to the UK flew from RAF Lakenheath, UK, to Amari for a short visit. In fact, the quick stopover was “accompanied” by a rather unusual activity of U.S. and British spyplanes in the Baltic region: as many as three RC-135s (including a RAF Rivet Joint) operated in the airspaces over or close to Estonia as the F-35s headed to, stayed and returned from Amari. Back then, we speculated the presence of the three spyplanes was related to the F-35s trip: they were probably “covering” the stealth jets, deterring the Russians from using their radars to gather details on the Lightnings at their first trip to Estonia. We also noted that it was not the first time U.S. stealth jets flying to the Baltics were directly or indirectly “accompanied” by Rivet Joints: on Apr. 27, 2016, two F-22s deployed to Siauliai Air Base, Lithuania supported (so to say) by an RC-135W.

Whatever, although the peacetime NATO QRA configuration does not require the F-35s to keep their LO (Low Observability) – this is the reason why the Lightnings on alert are equipped with radar reflectors/RCS enhancers – it’s quite likely that the presence of the Italian F-35A 5th generation stealth aircraft in Estonia, not far from the border with mainland Russia, will attract some interest by the Russians land and airborne ELINT sensors, targeting, if not the F-35’s radar signature at specific wavelengths, at least its valuable radar emissions… We will see.

A big thank you to our friend Giovanni Colla for sending us additional details about the deployment!

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Italian Typhoons Deploy To Kuwait To Carry Out ISR Missions In Support Of Operation Inherent Resolve

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Italian Typhoon Kuwait
Two F-2000s taxi after their arrival at Alì Al Salem. (Image credit: Italian Air Force)

The Italian Air Force Typhoons have arrived at Alì Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait.

Four F-2000A Typhoon jets, belonging to the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) have deployed to Kuwait, to support Operation Inherent Resolve, the multinational campaign against Daesh in Iraq and Syria, as part of “Prima Parthica”, as the Italian Armed Forces operation is dubbed at national level.

While it’s not the first time the Italian Typhoons deploy to Kuwait, it’s the very first time since the Italian National Contingent Command Air – Task Force Air Kuwait has been established in 2014, that the Italian combat aircraft operate out of Alì Al Salem Air Base (west of Kuwait City): during their previous tour of duty in support of OIR, from Mar. 26, 2019 to Aug. 12, 2020, the Italian Eurofighters were stationed at Ahmed Al Jaber airbase (located to the south of Kuwait City).

In the next weeks, the Typhoons, belonging to the 4° Stormo (Wing), from Grosseto Air Base, and 36° Stormo, from Gioia del Colle, and operating within the Task Group “Typhoon”, will replace four Tornado IDS aircraft of the 154° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 6° Stormo (Wing) of the Italian Air Force, operating as part of the Task Group “Devil” at Ahmed Al Jaber airbase.

The “Typhoon trail” was supported by a KC-767 aircraft of the 8th Squadron/14th Wing from Pratica di Mare, that rejoined with the Eurofighters over the Ionian Sea, where the first of three aerial refuelings that allowed the aircraft to reach their destination after about 4.5 flight hours. Shortly after they arrived at Alì Al Salem, the Typhoons have launched the first Local Area Orientation sorties, which included missions over the local ranges in coordination with U.S. JTACs (Joint Terminal Attack Controllers).

The F-2000s (as the Italian single-seat “Tiffies” are designated) will carry out the same mission flown by the Tornado (and previously, the AMX A-11 Ghibli): Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance using the Rafael RecceLite II pod.

The Rafael Reccelite reconnaissance pod, integrated on the Typhoon since 2015, is the Italian Air Force’s tactical pod of choice to carry out ISR missions: the it is a Day/Night electro-optical pod able to provide real-time imagery collection. It is made of a stabilized turret, solid-state on board recorder that provides image collections in all directions, from high, medium and low altitudes. The Reccelite reconnaissance pod is used to broadcast live video imagery via datalink to ground stations and to ROVER (Remote Operations Video Enhanced Receiver) tactical receivers in a range of about 100 miles.

As explained in a recent article about the integration of the GBU-48 Enhanced Paveway II bombs with the Typhoon fleet for “Swing Role” missions, much has changed since the times the Italian Air Force saw the Eurofighter as an air superiority platform. Here’s what this Author wrote about the “transformation” we have observed in the last years:

While the integration of the new bombs is interesting, what’s even more remarkable is the fact that the Italian Air Force has become quite vocal about the “Swing Role” capabilities of its F-2000s (the Italian designation for the Typhoon is F-2000A, for the single seater, and TF-2000A, for the two seater).

As we reported in detail throughout the years, unlike other partner nations, the Italian Air Force hadn’t initially planned to employ the Typhoon is the air-to-surface role. In 2016, when the Italian Typhoons took part in their first Red Flag exercise, three of the Typhoons deployed at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, were Tranche 2 examples that embedded the P1E(B) upgrades and were loaded with the latest Software Release Package. The two T2 Typhoons carried also two inert GBU-16 Paveway II LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs) and the Litening targeting pod in order to validate the tactics being developed since the aircraft started the OT&E (Operational Testing & Evaluation) in 2015. At that time, the Italian Air Force claimed the Swing Role capability was being developed only to support the platform’s export capabilities and help the industry promoting the aircraft in particular regions (like Kuwait).

“Air superiority remains our primary mission,” told us Col. Pederzolli, commander of the 4° Stormo, during an interview in 2016. “However, last year, using the software releases that embed a significant air-to-surface potential we have started flying Swing Role missions with the aim to get a limited secondary air-to-ground capability.”

Following the Red Flag participation, a team of experienced Eurofighter pilots was destined to the new role and those aircrews who were already dual role qualified took part in a TLP (Tactical Leadership Programme) course at Albacete flying the Swing Role mission.

Many things have changed since then.

Despite the domestic criticism, Italy has started receiving its first F-35A (and then B) Lightning II jets, that the Italian Air Force has declared IOC (Initial Operational Capable) at the end of 2018 during the first 5th gen. TLP training course held at Amendola Air Base, home of the 32° Stormo, the first Italian Lightning unit. The stealth aircraft has then been more or less accepted by the public opinion and has already carried out two overseas missions under NATO command and has also achieved IOC in the QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) role, showcasing the willingness of the Italian Air Force to exploit the F-35 not only in the air-to-surface but also in the air-to-air role. This has also paved the way for a gradual expansion of the Eurofighter tasks with more communication being done around the Swing Role capabilities of the F-2000s.

Italian Typhoon Kuwait
Two Typhoons of the 4° Stormo as seen from a KC-767A. (Image credit: Giovanni Maduli / The Aviationist)

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Force Multiplier: We Refuel F-35s, Tornado, Typhoons and Another KC-767 During Mission With Italian Air Force Tanker

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Italian Air Force KC-767
The Italian Air Force KC-767A. (The Aviationist)

We took part in a mission aboard the Italian Air Force KC-767 and had the opportunity to refuel receivers using different both the “flying boom” and “hose and drogue” systems.

The Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militare) operates a fleet of four Boeing KC-767A Tanker/Transport aircraft. The KC-767s are assigned to the 14° Stormo (Wing) based at Pratica di Mare airbase, near Rome, and flown by the 8° Gruppo (Squadron). The 767s are among the most in-demand assets of the Italian Air Force: while their primary role is AAR (Air-to-Air Refueling), the KC-767A, in both Cargo, Combi and Full Pax configurations, can be used for strategic transport missions as well as MEDEVAC (Medical Evacuation) or Bio-Containment missions. The latter have become particularly important last year, with the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, when the wide-bodies carried out both repatriation flights of Italian citizens stranded abroad by the first wave of lockdowns, and biosafety containment missions of Covid-19 patients.

The first Italian KC-767A (MM62229/14-04) was delivered to the 14th Wing little more than 10 years ago, on Jan. 27, 2011. Few weeks later, the type had its  “baptism of fire” in Libya, boosting NATO’s AAR capability by supporting Italian Eurofighter, Tornado IDS and ECR, and AMX jets involved in Operation Unified Protector. Since then, the fleet has achieved a lot of experience supporting all the various Italian real operations and deployments around the world (to Iceland for NATO Air Policing; to Kuwait for Operation Inherent Resolve; to Red Flag, just to name but few) and the major multinational exercises, as well as becoming the first international tanker to refuel an F-35.

With more than 30,000 flight hours since they entered active service (a milestone achieved in 2020), the KC-767 fleet has proved to be a force multiplier not only for the Italian MOD but also for NATO: for example, the Italian tankers refueled the British Eurofighters on their way to LIMA 13 airshow; dragged the Spanish EF-18 and Eurofighter Typhoons to Konya, in Turkey, for Anatolian Eagle; supported the Czech Air Force Gripen deploying to Keflavik to take over the Icelandic Air Policing mission. Support of allied air forces is pretty much routine.

In fact, the Italian KC-767s are also assigned to the EATC (European Air Transport Command), the multinational command headquartered at Eindhoven AB in the Netherlands whose goal is to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the member nations military air transport efforts by “pooling and sharing” assets to optimize resources and fill the shortfall of EU tankers highlighted by the Libya Air War in 2011.

An Italian Air Force KC-767A T/T seen from the cockpit of another KC-767. (Image credit: Author)

The KC-767A

Based on the commercial B-767-200ER (Extended Range), the KC-767A is equipped with both the sixth generation flying boom (similar to the one of the American KC-10), and three hose and drogue stations (WARPs – Wing Air Refueling Pods). This dual capability gives the KC-767A a significant flexibility: during the same mission the tanker can refuel both aircraft equipped with onboard receptacle and those with an IFR (In-Flight Refueling) probe. The tanker is itself equipped with a receptacle, meaning that it can be refueled by another KC-767 extending its range (or on-station time).

KC-767
Air-to-air image of the KC-767A “Petrol 42”. (Image credit: Giovanni Maduli / The Aviationist)

The aircrews of the 8° Gruppo are also capable of “buddy refueling operations”: a KC-767 can refuel another KC-767 mid-air using the flying boom and the aircraft’s receptacle, further extending the aircraft endurance.

Unlike the “legacy” refuelers, as the U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker, where the “boomer” (as the operator of the boom is nicknamed) watches the receiver through a rear observation window, in the KC-767 the ARO (Air Refueling Operator) move the boom using a joystick while watching the video coming from a series of cameras mounted on the tanker’s rear fuselage. The advanced camera system feeds a Remote Vision System (RVS) that provides high-definition stereoscopic imagery to the vision goggles attached to a sort-of flight helmet worn by the boomer during the air-to-air refueling.

The two AROs in the station located behind the cockpit. (Image credit: Author)

While a Boeing 767 derivative too, the KC-46A Pegasus the U.S. Air Force selected to replace the older KC-135 features a stretched fuselage, different engines, cockpit, wings and boom: in other words, it’s almost a completely different tanker.

We recently took part in an AAR mission aboard an Italian Air Force KC-767A of the 14th Wing. Here’s how it went.

“Petrol 42”

Pratica di Mare AB, Apr. 1, 2021.

Two KC-767s (callsigns “Petrol 41” and “Petrol 42”), along with a KC-130J of the 46^ Brigata Aerea (Air Brigade) from Pisa AB, are tasked to refuel all the assets involved in the second and last day of a COMAO (Combined Air Operations) exercise held by the Italian Air Force. The list of receivers the three tankers need to support includes all the tactical aircraft of the Aeronautica Militare: F-35As from Amendola Air Base; Tornado IDS and ECR jets from Ghedi AB; AMX Ghiblis from Istrana AB; and Eurofighter Typhoons from Grosseto, Trapani, Gioia del Colle and Istrana AB.

The three refuelers are assigned different chunks and levels of the R48, a large restricted area located over Central Italy. “Petrol 42”, in dual “boom” and “hose and drogue” configuration, is tasked to refuel two F-35As, two Typhoons from Istrana and two Tornado IDSs; “Petrol 41”, in “hose-only” configuration, is assigned Typhoons from Grosseto; the rest of the tacair jets will be “served” by the KC-130J (a type of tanker that can only refuel aircraft equipped with an IFR probe).

The two KC-767s will depart about 15 minutes apart: “Petrol 42” (with the Author on board) will take off first, followed by “Petrol 41”. Separated in time, the two tankers will head towards the refueling area, where they will operate at FL220 and FL200 respectively. The plan is to spend little less than 4 hours “on station”: after completing the aerial refueling of the COMAO “chicks”, there will be time for buddy refueling, with plugs that will allow some pilots and AROs of the 8th Gruppo to renew their currencies.

We depart Pratica in perfect time, at 12.45LT. We climb on the assigned SID (Standard Instrumental Departure), in contact with Rome ATC (Air Traffic Control), and after a few minutes, we are cleared to proceed direct to the R48. Approaching the area we are instructed to switch to “Pioppo”, the GCI (Ground Control Intercept) that will manage the operational traffic in R48 acting also as tanker management agency, assisting the receivers in their rejoin with the KC-767.

We take the northeastern part of the area and start the pre-refueling checks.

KC-767A “Petrol 42” with the lowered flying boom (Image credit: Giovanni Maduli / The Aviationist)

“Petrol 42, on station”: we are ready to refuel.

We have lowered the boom while the AROs, wearing the HMD (Head-Mounted Display) system of the RVS prepare for the first receivers. By the way, one of the two “boomers” wears a patch that celebrates his 4,000 FH aboard the KC-767 patch (!!).

Inside the cockpit of the KC-767A “Petrol 42”. (Image credit: Author)

Our first “customers”, two F-35As of the 32° Stormo, are already in contact with Pioppo. The controller provides BRAA (Bearing Range Altitude Aspect) and radar vectors to the two Lightning II jets as they approach the rendez-vous point 1,000 feet below the tanker’s level. As soon as they call the “visual contact”, Pioppo instructs the two stealth jets to contact us on a discrete “boomfreq”.

Two F-35As of the 13° Gruppo prepares to refuel from “Petrol 42”.

“Confirm nose is cold, weapons safe, you are cleared echelon left”. The two Lightnings, approaching the tanker from astern, move to the left observation position before being instructed to move in trail.

Once the F-35 is the right position, the ARO guides the boom to the dorsal receptacle of the stealth jet. All is “green” after the plug: the refueling starts. In a matter of minutes both the Lightnings are “happy”, move to the “right observation” position and leave the tanker 1,000 feet above us.

One of the F-35As waits on the “right observation” after AAR. (Image credit: Author)

As the F-35s depart the tanker to continue their mission, the KC-767 is configured for the next receivers: two Tornado IDS aircraft. Since these are equipped with probe, the boom is retracted and the hoses are extended from the two underwing pods. The “switch” from one configuration to another one takes only few minutes and we are soon ready to refuel “Devil” flight.

Only one Tornado needs fuel today and the procedure is always the same: left observation, then clearance to move astern one of the baskets (in this case the left one). Once in pre-contact position, the “Tonka” is cleared to contact: in this case, the AROs have little to do besides monitoring the refueling operation through the displays that show the video feeds from the back cameras, and talk to the receiver on the radio.

“Devil 53”, a Tornado IDS of the 154° Gruppo/6° Stormo from Ghedi on the left observation position before the AAR.

The Tornado IDS unplugs the probe from the basket, moves to the right observation and leaves the tanker to continue the assigned mission.

The next receivers, coming in 45 minutes, will be two Eurofighter Typhoons from Istrana AB: there’s some time for a first round of “buddy refueling” with “Petrol 41” that has also completed its AAR with the F-2000As (as the single-seat Typhoons are designated in Italy) from Grosseto.

We retract the hoses and lower the flying boom while the other KC-767 climbs, under radar control, to rejoin with us. Some 15 minutes later, “Petrol 41” is in pre-contact position, just behind us. We follow the refueling operation through the ARO’s displays.

The view of “Petrol 41” during the buddy refueling operations. (Image credit: Author)

The size of the other tanker is quite impressive even when observed through a remote camera system. While the earlier contacts of the flying boom with the F-35’s receptacle were almost imperceptible, the plug with the much larger KC-767 is far from subtle: it shakes the whole tanker a bit.

We carry out multiple “dry” and “wet” (with actual fuel transfer) plugs, before it’s time to reconfigure for the next receivers.

KC-767
“Petrol 42” seen from the cockpit of “Petrol 41” during the buddy refueling.

“Petrol 41” remains with us, in a loose formation, far enough so that it does not interfere with the refueling operations of the arriving F-2000s.

Close up view of the nose section of the KC-767 with the air refueling receptacle above the cockpit. (Image credit: Author)

Soon, the two Typhoons are on the tanker’s left wing, ready to refuel: they are from the 51° Stormo (Wing) and assigned to the 132° Gruppo (Squadron), the most recent Italian Air Force Typhoon unit (the 132nd currently flies both the Eurofighters and the last AMXs).

The two jets move from the left observation to the pre-contact position astern of the hoses and then start refueling, concurrently, from “Petrol 42”.

Two F-2000s of the 132° Gruppo about to refuel from “Petrol 42”. The one in the foreground carries a centerline Litening targeting pod. (Image credit: Author)

Once again, in a few minutes the procedure is completed: the two Typhoons leave the tanker, while we retract the hoses in the WARPs and prepare for some additional buddy refueling operations inside R48 at different levels.

After some 3h 30m of aerial refueling ops inside R48 we call “off station” and start returning home, splitting from “Petrol 41”.

We land at Pratica di Mare shortly before 17.30LT, about 5 hours after take off: “business as usual” for the aircrews of the 14° Stormo; an extremely interesting experience for us.

“Tanker break”. (Image credit: Author).

The Author wishes to thank the ItAF Public Information Office and the 14° Stormo for the help provided before, during and after the flight.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Blurred Photo Of “Weird Objects” Flying Over Italy Fuels Crazy UFO Theories. But It Was Just The Frecce Tricolori

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Alleged UFO sighting
The blurred photo that fuelled some UFO theories in northeastern Italy. (Image credit: via CUN – Centro Ufologico Nazionale)

A photo of the Frecce Tricolori accompanied by two C-27J aircraft during an aerial photo shooting at dusk over northern Italy sent local media into a frenzy, fuelling crazy UFO theories.

A low quality, blurred image said to depict UFO or “weird object escorted by two military aircraft” over northeastern Italy, made the news lately. The photograph was published by some local media outlets which reported that around 7.20PM on Mar. 23, 2021, several witnesses noticed two aircraft, coming from the southeast and heading northwest, escorting, from distance, what was described as a large square- or diamond-shaped objected which “incorporated from 10 to 12 fixed yellow lights”.

According to the reports, “the object traveled very fast and left behind an intense trail and the only noise that was perceived was that of the two planes flying at a lower altitude than the square object, at a much lower speed.”

One and a half minutes was the average duration of the sightings; enough to spark discussions and fuel the most crazy hypotheses on social networks (and media). So much so, the photograph was also brought to the attention of the Centro Ufologico Nazionale (Italian for “National UFO Center”) which started its own investigation.

However, the sighting had nothing to do with UFOs: on Mar. 23, a 9-ship formation of the Frecce Tricolori, the display team of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force), was involved in an aerial photo shooting at sunset with two C-27J Spartan. Pretty normal: tactical transport aircraft like the Spartan or the larger C-130J with an open cargo bay are often used as photo platforms for the Troupe Azzurra, the Italian Air Force photo and video team, and other photographers and journalists (including the author, that has taken part in some of these air-to-air photo shootings).

Watching the unusual formation in the darkness and at high altitude, some people simply didn’t recognize the popular jet team (although its peculiar smoke trail could be a hint…).

Footage and photographs of the Frecce Tricolori like this one are taken from a C-27J or C-130J. (Image credit: ItAF)

The event (a big thank you to my friend Mauro Roder for sending me this) is worth of remark because it proves how, even today, in an era when fact checking should be easy and the majority of people have the ability to take high-rez photographs using a commercial smartphone, a crappy photograph can still generate weird UFO (Unidentified Flying Object) theories. We already know that many of the UFOs spotted by people in the middle of the last century were actually high-flying U-2 spy planes, officials from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency say. Who knows how many more sightings of the past were actually aircraft seen from distance (or photographed with less advanced camera systems)?

This comic strip relates to a 19 July 1952 series of multiple sightings of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) over Washington, DC. National Archives

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Italian Eurofighter Typhoon Flew In “Full Load” Configuration For The First Time Last Week

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Italian Eurofighter Typhoon
A head-on photo of an Italian Eurofighter Typhoon in “Full Load” configuration (All images: Italian Air Force)

The Italian Air Force has flown a Eurofighter Typhoon in “Beast Mode” last week. And here are some interesting new photos.

As we have already reported, on Mar. 19, 2021, an Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militare) Eurofighter Typhoon belonging to the 4° Stormo (Wing), based at Grosseto Air Base, flew with a full loadout that included four new GBU-48 bombs, 4x AIM-120 AMRAAMs, 2x IRIS-T missiles, 2x tanks and a Litening targeting pod. The configuration, dubbed “Italian Typhoon’s Beast Mode” in the posts the service published on its social media networks, is referred to as a “Full Load” configuration, according to an official statement released today, and is being tested for Swing Role missions (i.e. sorties where a multirole aircraft can quickly switch between an air-to-air and an air-to-ground mission thanks to weapons load and sensors which allow it to carry out both missions simultaneously).

Interestingly, as highlighted in the previous article, the photos released by the Aeronautica Militare show that while the bombs were inert, the missiles had the yellow stripes, meaning they were “live” weapons.

The mission flown last week, the first in this “Full Load”, was carried out both to test the handling of the aircraft with the full loadout and to provide the armament team on the ground the opportunity to validate the procedures developed to manage all the weapons used in this new configuration. In particular the new GBU-48 Enhanced Paveway II, a 1,000 lb (454 kg) Enhanced dual-mode (GPS and Laser guided) version of the GBU-16, also known as EGBU-16.

The F-2000A takes off in “Beast Mode” or “Full Load”.

Along with the official release, the Italian Air Force has also made available additional shots of the “missiled up” F-2000A (as the single seat Eurofighters are designated in Italy).

View from the above.

For more details about the “road to the Italian Air Force Eurofighter in Swing Role”, I suggest you reading the story we have published last week that you can find here.

Italian Eurofighter Typhoon
Another image of the Mar. 19, 2021 flight in Full Load configuration.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Italian Air Force Releases Photo Of Eurofighter Typhoon With Four New GBU-48 Bombs

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Italian F-2000A with 4x GBU-48 bombs, 4x AIM-120 AMRAAMs, and 2x IRIS-T missiles. (Image credit: Italian Air Force)

The Italian Air Force has integrated the GBU-48 Enhanced Paveway II bombs with the Eurofighter Typhoon fleet for “Swing Role” missions.

The Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) has published an interesting photo of a Eurofighter Typhoon of the 4° Stormo (Wing), based at Grosseto Air Base, flying with a full loadout that includes four new GBU-48 bombs along with 4x AIM-120 AMRAAMs, 2x IRIS-T missiles, 2x tanks and a Litening targeting pod (a sort-of of unusual Italian Typhoon’s “Beast Mode” configuration).

The GBU-48 Enhanced Paveway II is a 1,000 lb (454 kg) Enhanced dual-mode (GPS and Laser guided) version of the GBU-16, also known as EGBU-16. The bomb is already integrated with the GAF Eurofighter.

While the integration of the new bombs is interesting, what’s even more remarkable is the fact that the Italian Air Force has become quite vocal about the “Swing Role” capabilities of its F-2000s (the Italian designation for the Typhoon is F-2000A, for the single seater, and TF-2000A, for the two seater).

As we reported in detail throughout the years, unlike other partner nations, the Italian Air Force hadn’t initially planned to employ the Typhoon is the air-to-surface role. In 2016, when the Italian Typhoons took part in their first Red Flag exercise, three of the Typhoons deployed at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, were Tranche 2 examples that embedded the P1E(B) upgrades and were loaded with the latest Software Release Package. The two T2 Typhoons carried also two inert GBU-16 Paveway II LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs) and the Litening targeting pod in order to validate the tactics being developed since the aircraft started the OT&E (Operational Testing & Evaluation) in 2015. At that time, the Italian Air Force claimed the Swing Role capability was being developed only to support the platform’s export capabilities and help the industry promoting the aircraft in particular regions (like Kuwait).

“Air superiority remains our primary mission,” told us Col. Pederzolli, commander of the 4° Stormo, during an interview in 2016. “However, last year, using the software releases that embed a significant air-to-surface potential we have started flying Swing Role missions with the aim to get a limited secondary air-to-ground capability.”

Following the Red Flag participation, a team of experienced Eurofighter pilots was destined to the new role and those aircrews who were already dual role qualified took part in a TLP (Tactical Leadership Programme) course at Albacete flying the Swing Role mission.

Many things have changed since then.

Despite the domestic criticism, Italy has started receiving its first F-35A (and then B) Lightning II jets, that the Italian Air Force has declared IOC (Initial Operational Capable) at the end of 2018 during the first 5th gen. TLP training course held at Amendola Air Base, home of the 32° Stormo, the first Italian Lightning unit. The stealth aircraft has then been more or less accepted by the public opinion and has already carried out two overseas missions under NATO command and has also achieved IOC in the QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) role, showcasing the willingness of the Italian Air Force to exploit the F-35 not only in the air-to-surface but also in the air-to-air role. This has also paved the way for a gradual expansion of the Eurofighter tasks with more communication being done around the Swing Role capabilities of the F-2000s.

From March 2019 to August 2020, the Italian Air Force Typhoons were deployed to Kuwait in support of OIR (Operation Inherent Resolve) in Syria and Iraq. The Italian F-2000s carried out reconnaissance missions using the RecceLite II pod. The tour of duty in the Middle East marked a significant “multirole evolution” for the Italian Typhoons, which logged more than 2,000 FH (Flight Hours) in theater.

Anyway, using the F-2000 at its full potential for attack, CAS (Close Air Support), AI (Air Interdiction) and Recce roles makes a lot of sense and follows the steps of the Royal Air Force, that has been the pioneer service in the air-to-ground mission with the type, using the Typhoon FGR4s first in Libya 10 years ago, then in the air war against Daesh in Iraq and Syria (using also the Storm Shadow cruise missiles for the first time); and the German Air Force, that under project Quadriga plans to use a mix of Tranche 4 Eurofighters, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and  EA-18G Growlers to replace the Tornados.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.
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