Tag: F-35B

Alleged British F-35B Crash Video Leaked Online

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A screenshot of the crash video.

Provided it is genuine, the clip shows the British crashing in the sea during a failed take off from HMS Queen Elizabeth.

A video, supposedly showing the moment a British F-35B Lightning crashed off UK’s aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has just emerged and doing the rounds. Although we can’t be 100 percent sure, the clip (probably filmed with a smartphone as the actual video possibly recorded by the aircraft’s camera system is displayed on a computer’s screen), appears to be genuine and shows the incident, that occurred on Nov. 17, 2021, as it has been described so far.

You can clearly see an F-35B, configured for short take off (with open LIFT fan door and rear nozzle pivoted downward), rolling on the ski jump at very low speed (much lower than normal), then literally falling off the carrier for lack of enough thrust/lift. The pilot manages to launch as the aircraft reaches the final part of the ski jump.

Here’s the video:

The UK MOD has not denied the authenticity of the video (although it hasn’t confirmed it either).

As already reported, the one that crashed crashed in the Mediterranean Sea launching from the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is one of the eight British F-35Bs and ten U.S. Marine Corps F-35s embarked HMS Queen Elizabeth on her maiden operational cruise (dubbed CSG-21).

In an exclusive story published by The Sun on Nov. 23, the root cause of the crash was identified as a plastic, red rain cover, supposed to be removed before flight, but left on for the take off. While which “cheap plastic cover” was not removed before flight has not been explained, someone suggested it could be the one that is used to protect the dorsal air intake exposed when the LIFT fan door (the so called “toilet cover”) is opened.

Anyway, the fact that the flying activity was not halted after the incident, and that all the F-35Bs embarked aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth, including those of the U.S. Marine Corps, could take part in a cross deck exercise off Italy with the Italian Air Force and Navy’s F-35Bs was a clear sign that the root cause of the crash was immediately known and, importantly, not technical.

“If [the root cause being the rain cover left on is] confirmed, the crash of the F-35B would have been caused by a catastrophic chain of failures (by more than one person) in following the standard taxi and take off procedures, that will certainly include multiple visual checks of the actual removal of the air intake covers and safety pins (which are in red color and have the usual “Remove Before Flight” sign to attract the attention and prevent this kind of incidents),” this Author commented in a previous article on the incident.

Interestingly, the new video, provided is genuine, seems to show another interesting detail: as the aircraft is rolling, it seems like the pilot attempted to change the nozzle position and tilt it rearward, possibly in a final attempt to increase the thrust.

H/T Alex Snow for the heads-up.

f5260c1a4f5417527329915544c2932f?s=125&d=mm&r=g - Alleged British F-35B Crash Video Leaked Online
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 F-35B Lands On Italian Navy Aircraft Carrier For The First Time

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Italian Navy and Air Force F-35Bs together on the flight deck of ITS Cavour. (All images: Italian MOD)

During the joint drills, the Italian Air Force and Navy F-35B integrated aboard ITS Cavour for the very first time and also landed on HMS Queen Elizabeth.

A joint exercise, involving both the Italian Navy aircraft carrier Cavour and the Royal Navy HMS Queen Elizabeth, was carried out in the central Mediterranean Sea in the last few days. The drills, which officially ended on Nov. 21, 2021, saw several “firsts”: an F-35B of the Italian Air Force landed for the first time on the Italian Navy aircraft carrier; the Italian Air Force and Navy’s F-35Bs integrated for the first time aboard ITS Cavour before landing for the first time on HMS Queen Elizabeth; two operational U.S. Marine Corps F-35B deployed aboard HMSQE operated from the flight deck on the Italian aircraft carrier for the first time.

The end of the international activity was closely observed by the recently appointed Chief of Defense Staff, Admiral Giuseppe Cavo Dragon, who was accompanied for the occasion by the Navy Chief of Staff, Admiral Enrico Credendino and by the Air Force Chief of Staff General Luca Goretti.

“The aerial activity aboard the Cavour aircraft carrier, carried out in full synergy between the Navy and the Air Force, represents a milestone in the development of the national ability to project the potential offered by the new fifth generation aircraft from the sea, the F-35B,” says a statement from the Italian MOD.

- Italian Air Force F-35B Lands On Italian Navy Aircraft Carrier For The First TimeThe Italian Navy F-35B next to the Italian Air Force F-35B aboard ITS Cavour.

Admiral Cavo Dragone, congratulating the Navy and Air Force personnel involved in the activity, highlighted how “in addition to the excellent skills already achieved by F-35A of the Air Force, both in the operational field and in real operations, today’s exercise represents a strong impetus in the process of developing the national air projection capacity from the sea, with the integration of fifth generation joint tactical multirole aircraft, allowing our country to be the only one able to guarantee this contribution within the European Union “.

As we have often commented in the past, the joint activity carried out in full synergy between the two Italian services was desirable as it paves the way for more integration: the Italian Government is currently procuring 90 F-35s, 60 of those are F-35As (that will be entirely operated by the Aeronautica Militare) and the remaining 30 ones are F-35Bs. Out of those 30 F-35Bs, 15 will go to the Marina Militare (Italian Navy) and 15 to the Air Force. The Lightning II will replace the Navy’s ageing AV-8B+ Harrier II and will be embarked on the Cavour aircraft carrier and the new LHD Trieste

As already explained in the past, the Gruppo Aerei Imbarcati “Wolves”, which will operate the F-35Bs within the Navy, is based in Grottaglie, close to the naval port of Taranto, home to the Cavour aircraft carrier [and to the Trieste landing helicopter dock (LHD), in the future] and not too far from Amendola, the Italian Air Force base that is the MOB (Main Operating Base) to both the F-35A and B of the Air Force. Although still far to become something real a joint Air Force/Navy flight line with common logistics and training, would make a lot of sense to make the best out of the whole Italian STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) fleet.

“The synergies between the Navy and the Air Force in the use of F-35Bs on board the aircraft carrier will also be achieved in use from the ground, operating jointly in operational situations where suitable landing strips for conventional aircraft are not available”.

- Italian Air Force F-35B Lands On Italian Navy Aircraft Carrier For The First TimeThe Chief Of Joint Staff Adm. Cavo Dragone greets the Italian Air Force F-35B pilot who have just landed on ITS Cavour.

Earlier this year, the Italian aircraft carrier ITS Cavour returned to Italy from the F-35B trials in the U.S. where it carried out an intense training activity with the U.S. Navy aimed at certifying its flight deck for new aircraft. After the successful Sea Trials, an Italian F-35B landed for the first time on the carrier in Italy. During the last days, as already mentioned, the carrier also interacted with the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth on her way back to the UK after the maiden deployment dubbed CSG-21. Indeed, thanks to the high level of interoperability achieved, two Italian F-35Bs (one Navy and one Air Force) landed on HMSQE and at the same time two US Marine Corps F-35Bs, deployed aboard the British aircraft carrier, landed on the Italian aircraft carrier Cavour.

“In addition to the success of the joint activities carried out by the Italian Navy and Air Force aircraft on board Nave Cavour, today’s interaction with the British aircraft carrier group has made it possible to successfully test the joint technical-operational procedures aimed at achieving full interoperability between the two navies.

A few days ago, an F-35B of the RAF 617 Sqn embarked aboard HMSQE crashed for reasons currently being investigated.

f5260c1a4f5417527329915544c2932f?s=125&d=mm&r=g - Italian Air Force F-35B Lands On Italian Navy Aircraft Carrier For The First Time
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 Is What We Know About Yesterday’s British F-35B Crash

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A British F-35B prepares to takeoff from the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier. (Photo: UK MoD)

The aircraft went down soon after takeoff this morning while the HMS Queen Elizabeth was sailing in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Probably, recovery operation underway.

As you may know by now, a British F-35B crashed in the Mediterranean Sea on Nov. 17, 2021, around 10AM GMT. The aircraft was one of the eight British F-35s and ten U.S. Marine Corps F-35s currently embarked aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier. A very short statement by the UK Ministry of Defence Press Office, released this afternoon, stated that the pilot was rescued and returned to the ship following a successful ejection.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, as quoted by BBC’s Defence Correspondent Jonathan Beale, provided some further details, saying that the F-35 ditched soon after taking off from the aircraft carrier and that operational and training flights onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth are continuing despite the incident. Some reports mentioned the possibility of a British pilot flying on a US jet, however it has been later confirmed that both the pilot and the F-35B were indeed British.

The HMS Queen Elizabeth is currently on her way back to the UK from the maiden operational deployment with the recently established Carrier Strike Group. The 28-week deployment, which has been dubbed Carrier Strike Group 2021, brought the British aircraft carrier to the troubled waters of the Indo-Pacific region as the flagship of the largest naval and air task force under British command since the Falklands war. The CSG was planned to visit 40 nations during the 26,000-nautical-mile cruise.

Naval AIS (Automatic Identification Systems) data showed the HMS Queen Elizabeth CSG passing through the Suez Canal during yesterday’s afternoon, as seen on multiple ship tracking websites like MarineTraffic. The info was also confirmed by satellite imagery. This restricts the area where the mishap happened to the area between Egypt, Cyprus and Crete. If the ship was to make a port call in Cyprus like it did in July before moving to the Red Sea, this would restrict even more the area that needs to be considered.

In either case, the F-35 wreck on the Mediterranean seafloor is quite a sensitive matter, as the area where the mishap happened is relatively close to the Russian bases in Syria. This crash sparks concerns similar to the ones that followed the crash of a Japanese F-35 in 2019, when reports mentioned the risks of Russian and Chinese units trying to recover the missing fuselage in the attempt to exploit its remains to gather intelligence about the F-35’s low observable and sensor technology.

In that occasion, the F-35 crashed in an area about 130 km from Misawa AB where the water depth was deemed to be about 10,000 feet. This might also be similar to yesterday’s crash, as it happened in open water with depths that can exceed, in some areas, over 3,000 meters, which correspond to about 10,000 feet. The area is also highly trafficked, given the proximity to the Suez Canal, and combined with the extreme depth, this reduces the chances of another country finding and exploiting any of the plane’s remains.

Even if someone succeeded, it is unlikely to gather useful data, as we wrote in a previous article here at The Aviationist:

“It could present problems depending on what is recovered, when it is recovered and, above all, in which conditions, after impacting the surface of the water,” our own David Cenciotti told Fox News via email. “The F-35 is a system of systems and its Low Observability/stealthiness is a system itself. It is obtained with a particular shape of the aircraft, a certain engine and the use of peculiar materials and systems all those are managed and tightly integrated by million lines of software code: this means that it would be extremely difficult to reverse engineer the aircraft by recovering debris and broken pieces from the ocean bed. However, there are still lots of interesting parts that could be studied to get some interesting details: a particular onboard sensor or something that can’t be seen from the outside but could be gathered by putting your hands on chunks of the aircraft intakes or exhaust section, on the radar reflectors etc.”

Yesterday’s F-35 mishap should be the sixth where the aircraft has been lost since it entered service, and the first non-US B-model crash. As of today, the list counts two US and one Japanese F-35A and two US and one British F-35B. Before the crash, the UK had 24 F-35Bs delivered, of which three in the USA for testing, eight on the HMSQE and the remaining ones at RAF Marham.

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Stefano D’Urso is a contributor for TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. He’s a full-time engineering student and aspiring pilot. In his spare time he’s also an amateur aviation photographer and flight simulation enthusiast.

British F-35B From HMS Queen Elizabeth Has Crashed In The Med Sea. Pilot Reportedly Ejected.

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One of the 8 F-35B deployed aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth during Strike Falcon 2021 at Pantelleria (Author)

Breaking news: British F-35B crashed this morning during operations from HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier.

An F-35B, one of the eight British jets embarked aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth has crashed this morning around 10AM GMT as the aircraft carrier was conducting routine activities in the Mediterranean Sea.

The pilot successfully ejected from the F-35B and was safely rescued. According to a very short statement released by the UK Ministry of Defence Press Office, the pilot has already returned to the ship, while investigation in the incident has begun.

The jet involved in the incident was one of the eight F-35B of the RAF 617 Squadron from RAF Marham deployed aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth along with 10 F-35B of the U.S. Marine Corps VMFA-211 Wake Island Avengers, based at MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Yuma, Arizona. HMSQE is on her way back to the UK from a 28-week deployment – dubbed CSG21 (Carrier Strike Group 2021) – that brought the British aircraft carrier to the troubled waters of the Indo-Pacific region as the flagship of the largest naval and air task force under British command since the Falklands war.

Before reaching the South China Sea, the British aircraft carrier was quite busy: it took part in Exercise Joint Warrior/Strike Warrior off Scotland; then joined drills with NATO partners, including Falcon Strike 2021 in the Mediterranean Sea; and also supported counter-Daesh operations in Iraq and Syria. On the way back, the carrier will operate with allied nations in the Mediterranea Sea again.

The airframes known to have been operating aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth during her maiden deployment are ZM150/016; ZM154/020; ZM152/018; ZM151/017; ZM147/013; ZM153/019; ZM155/021 and ZM148/014.

The CSG21 deployment marked the first time UK fighter aircraft embarked on an operational aircraft carrier deployment since 2010, and was also the largest number of F-35Bs ever to sail the seas.

We will update the story as new details about the incident emerge.

f5260c1a4f5417527329915544c2932f?s=125&d=mm&r=g - British F-35B From HMS Queen Elizabeth Has Crashed In The Med Sea. Pilot Reportedly Ejected.
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 F-35B Lands For The First Time On Italy’s ITS Cavour Aircraft Carrier

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The third F-35B of the Italian Navy prepares to land on the ITS Cavour’s flight deck. (Photo: Italian Navy)

The historic event follows the recent delivery of the third F-35B to the Italian Navy and the Ready for Operations test campaign in the USA earlier this year.

An Italian F-35B Lightning II, belonging to the Marina Militare (Italian Navy) landed on the Italian Navy’s ITS Cavour aircraft carrier for the first time on July 30, 2021 during navigation in the Gulf of Taranto. The aircraft is the BL-4 built at the Cameri Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO), in northwestern Italy, and recently delivered with the serial MM7454 and codes “4-03”, which flew for the first time in June. As the other two F-35Bs delivered to the Navy, it features the wolf’s head insignia on the tail, the wolf’s paw prints on the rudder, the Italian Navy roundel and the “MARINA” text.

“Today we are witnessing the landing on the Cavour aircraft carrier of the first F-35 of the Italian Navy: [it is] a great step towards the strategic objective of providing the Defense and Italy with an aircraft carrier capability with the latest generation of aircraft on board. A capacity that projects us into an elite of a few countries in the world, thus raising the level and international weight of Italy ”, said the Chief of Staff of the Navy, Admiral Giuseppe Cavo Dragone.

The delivery of the new aircraft has been defined as an important milestone in the process that will replace the aging AV-8B+ Harrier with the new 5th gen aircraft on the ITS Cavour and, in future, the new ITS Trieste. The Marina Militare expects to reach the Initial Operational Capability (IOC) with the F-35B by 2024 and the Final Operational Capability (FOC) as soon as the deliveries are completed.

Initially it was not clear where the F-35B BL-4 would be assigned, as the first two jets are in the United States to train pilots at MCAS Beaufort. However, the Navy mentioned in the press release that the arrival of this new aircraft allows the naval service to begin the training of pilots for their Carrier Qualification (CQ) on Italian ships: it seems safe to believe that it will stay in Italy (at least for the moment), but it is not known if it will be based at Grottaglie airport with the Harriers or at Amendola Air Base with the Italian Air Force F-35s to reduce the logistical burden until the final decision for the Navy’s F-35 basing is confirmed.

- Italian F-35B Lands For The First Time On Italy’s ITS Cavour Aircraft CarrierThe first Italian F-35B to land on the ITS Cavour as it moves on the flight deck. (Photo: Italian Navy)

The decision about the base for the Navy’s F-35Bs and the delivery of 15 jets to the Navy and 15 to the Air Force have been a much debated topic in Italy, as we often reported here at The Aviationist. Here is an extract of what we wrote last year when the Air Force received its first F-35B:

The Gruppo Aerei Imbarcati, which will operate the F-35B within the Navy, is currently based in Grottaglie, close to the naval port of Taranto, home to the Cavour aircraft carrier [and to the Trieste landing helicopter dock (LHD), in the future]. However, according to some reports, the Italian Defense Chief of Staff has already identified Amendola Air Base, the MOB (Main Operating Base) of the F-35A within the ItAF (about 100NM northwest of Grottaglie), as the national MOB for both the CTOL (Convetional Take Off and Landing) and STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) versions of the Lightning II. This should prompt the relocation of the “Wolves” to Amendola, creating a joint Air Force/Navy flight line with common logistics and training, even though it would practically mean that the entire force would mostly be under Air Force control.

With both Italian Air Force’s and Navy’s F-35Bs based at Amendola AB, the Italians would replicate the British model that sees RAF Marham as MOB for a jointly manned “Lightning Force” made of Air Force (with the 207 and 617 squadrons) and Navy (with the 809 Naval Air Squadron that will be re-established in 2023) personnel, sharing aircraft, equipment and support infrastructures. The creation of an Italian Joint Lightning Force makes much sense: aircrew training, maintenance and at least part of the logistics could be concentrated in one place, with some significant savings. And if the selected base is Amendola, the Italian Joint Force could leverage at least some of the infrastructures built there to accommodate the Lightning. Indeed, preparation to host the F-35 in Amendola started in 2012 and today the “F-35 citadel” is literally a “base inside the base” with modern shelters and buildings located inside an access-controlled restricted zone created to isolate the 13° Gruppo’s area from the rest of the base. It must not be forgotten tha the advent of the F-35 has induced the Italian MoD to adopt tighter security measures than those in place before the arrival of a 5th generation technology and this becomes pretty evident if you think that all the photographs taken inside Amendola, must be reviewed one by one by security personnel so that no sensitive detail would be leaked. For sure, making Grottaglie ready for the F-35B would cost a lot of money and time, considered that the works to prepare the base for the Joint Strike Fighter were halted a couple of years ago.

In a post about the F-35B and the use of the aircraft as part of an Italian Joint Lightning Force published here at The Aviationist about 10 years ago our Editor David Cenciotti wrote:

“I don’t know if Italy is ready for a single type of aircraft for both ItAF and ItNy, capable of operating from the Cavour aircraft carrier as a single unit, something that would logically lead to the creation of a joint force similar to the British Joint Force Harrier and to the subsequent proposal of reabsorbing the unit into the Air Force, an option that the Navy might not accept….”

A decade later, the situation has probably not changed much.

In fact, while the final decision about the basing might still be uncertain, there is no doubt that the assignment of the third F-35B to the Air Force has made the Navy not happy. Navy officials have long challenged the decision of the Italian Air Force to procure the F-35B. The Italian Air Force considers the STOVL variant of the stealth aircraft indispensable for expeditionary scenarios and operations from unimproved and short landing strips.

Now, back to our main topic. The first landing of an Italian Navy F-35B on the ITS Cavour follows the “Ready for Operation” compatibility testing in the United States earlier this year, when two specially-instrumented U.S. F-35Bs belonging to VX-23 (Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23) from Naval Air Station Patuxent River (NAS Pax River) were deployed on the ship to test every aspect of the 5th gen aircraft operations onboard.

As part of the sea trials, the two F-35Bs of VX-23 carried out more than 50 flight missions, in all weather and sea state conditions, a night session, around 120 vertical landings, and as many short take-offs with the aid of the ski jump, and finally a vertical take-off test. Based on the images released during the campaign, some tests were also conducted with external loads, a configuration often referred to as “Beast Mode”.

These milestones come just as Navy prepares to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the first Harrier landing on the ITS Garibaldi (the ITS Cavour predecessor) at the end of August. However, this is the only important anniversary this year, as 2021 also marks the 160th anniversary of the Marina Militare, the 10th anniversary of the ITS Cavour becoming the fleet’s flagship (replacing the ITS Garibaldi) and the 30th anniversary of the Gruppo Aerei Imbarcati “Wolves” (which operates the Harrier and, in future, the Lightning II).

1c874047463801220adcba061ba371a3?s=125&d=mm&r=g - Italian F-35B Lands For The First Time On Italy’s ITS Cavour Aircraft Carrier
Stefano D’Urso is a contributor for TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. He’s a full-time engineering student and aspiring pilot. In his spare time he’s also an amateur aviation photographer and flight simulation enthusiast.

F-35B From British Aircraft Carrier Had A Close Encounter With A Russian Navy Warship In The Eastern Med Sea

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The NOTAM that announced the Russian naval activity in the eastern Med. In the screenshots, the F-35B that flew close to the Russian group and two Tu-22M3 bombers (via Russian MOD).

A Russian exercise in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, involving five warships as well as Tu- 142MK, Il-38, Tu-22M3 and MiG-31K aircraft, provided an opportunity for a close encounter with at least one F-35B operating from HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The Russian Aerospace Forces have kicked off an exercise in the eastern Mediterranean Sea on Jun. 25, 2021. As the Russian MOD announced in a public statement, five ships of the Russian Navy (the Moskva missile cruiser; the Admiral Essen and Admiral Makarov frigates, as well as two submarines, the Stary Oskol and Rostov-on-Don), together with Tu-142MK and Il-38 anti-submarine aircraft, Tu-22M3 Backfire bombers and MiG-31K aircraft are involved in the exercise, whose goal is to train combat forces to ensure the security of two key Russian bases in Syria: Khmeimim airbase and Tartus.

At least two MiG-31K, an Il-38 ASW aircraft, and three Tu-22M3 bombers have arrived at Kheimim airfield in Syria, whose capabilities have been expanded with the extension of the runway and the completion of a second runway. These works, completed in May, have allowed Moscow to deploy its LRA (Long Range Aviation) bombers along with the missile-carrier aircraft to the airbase on the Mediterranean Sea and launch missions from there.

The Russian MOD told reporters on Jun. 28 that the MiG-31K armed with the air-launched Kinzhal (Dagger) hypersonic missile and Tu-22M3 bombers performed training flights escorted by Su-35 and Su-34 aircraft during the eastern Med drills.

“As part of the joint exercise, the crews of MiG-31K aircraft, capable of using the latest hypersonic missiles from the Kinzhal missile, and long-range Tu-22M3 bombers made regular training flights in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, during which they completed the tasks of mastering the air space in maritime zone”, said the Defense Ministry. Some simulated missile launches were carried out by the MiG-31s using the Kinzhal missile during exercises in the Mediterranean Sea, according to Interfax.

For some context, here’s what we wrote when the Russian Aerospace Forces conducted the first successful test firing of the Kinzhal in 2018:

Kinzhal is claimed to be a strategic air-to-surface strike missile. The missile is claimed to have maneuverable flight characteristics not typically seen in hypersonic, solid fuel missiles. Observers of Russian missile programs have voiced skepticism about Russia’ performance claims however. According to Russians and reference sources the Kinzhal missile has a top speed of Mach 10 and maintains some ability to maneuver throughout its performance envelope including at hypersonic speed. If accurate, these capabilities could make the Kinzhal difficult to intercept by anti-missile systems. The missile is reported to have a range of 1,200 miles (approximately 2,000 kilometers). This, added to the reported 1,860-mile unrefueled range of the MiG-31BM long range, supersonic interceptor, gives the Kinzhal potentially intercontinental strike capability. The missile is also reported to be nuclear-capable and able to hit ground as well as naval targets.

Footage released by the Russian MOD provides also some additional details. First of all, the Tu-22M3 flew with Kh-22 anti-ship cruise missiles in the video. Indeed, the Backfire was primarily developed as an anti-ship missile carrier for the Soviet/Russian supersonic Kh-22/32 anti-ship missiles with range of up to 1,000 km (621 miles) as well as for smaller Kh-15 missiles with range of up to 300 km (160 miles).

Interestingly, the HMS Queen Elizabeth is currently reportedly operating in the Med Sea, south of Cyprus. It seems quite likely that the Russian aircraft have carried out already (or will, in the next days) perform some simulated attack on the British aircraft carrier and her strike group. For sure, the proximity between the has already provided an opportunity for a close encounter, as proved by a video, also released on Jun. 28, showing an F-35B from HMS QE flying near Russian Admiral Makarov frigate.

As already explained, on her maiden operational deployment (dubbed CSG-21), HMS Queen Elizabeth, with F-35B jets belonging to both the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Marine Corps VMFA-211 Wake Island Avengers, based at MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Yuma, Arizona, is heading to the Indo-Pacific region as the flagship of the largest naval and air task force under British command since the Falklands war. However, as planned, before reaching the troubled waters of the South China Sea, the British aircraft carrier will supporting counter-Daesh operations in Iraq and Syria. During her stay in the Med, it’s quite likely the Russians will keep an eye on the British aircraft carrier group and viceversa.

f5260c1a4f5417527329915544c2932f?s=125&d=mm&r=g - F-35B From British Aircraft Carrier Had A Close Encounter With A Russian Navy Warship In The Eastern Med Sea
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.

Third F-35B For The Italian Navy Makes First Flight

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The third F-35B for the Italian Navy during its test flight last week. (Image credit: Roberto Resnigo – BestShotAircraft)

BL-4 is the fourth Italian F-35B, the third STOVL aircraft destined to the Italian Navy.

On Jun. 14, 2021, the F-35B BL-4, the fourth STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) aircraft assembled in Italy, at the FACO (Final Assembly and Check Out) facility, in Cameri, carried out its maiden flight.

The aircraft, coded “4-03” and serialled MM7454, is the third aircraft destined to the Marina Militare (Italian Navy). The first two aircraft MM7451/4-01 and MM7452/4-02 are currently at MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina home of U.S. Marine Corps F-35B pilot training, where the Italian pilots destined to the STOVL variants are trained too.

BL-4 sports the same livery already adopted on the first two aircraft and clearly inspired to the one used by the Italian Navy’s AV-8B+ Harrier II of the Gruppo Aerei Imbarcati “Wolves”, based at Grottaglie: it features the wolf’s head insignia on the tail, the wolf’s paw prints on the rudder, the Italian Navy roundel and the “MARINA” text.

BL 4 3 - Third F-35B For The Italian Navy Makes First Flight
The F-35B MM7454 before taking off from Cameri (Image credit: Marcello Alongi – BestShotAircraft)

The images in this post were provided by our friends at BestShotAircraft and their photographers Roberto Resnigo and Marcello Alongi.

The aircraft has already carried out two test flights: the program calls for six test flights, including one in STOVL mode, before the jet is delivered to the customer for acceptance.

BL 4 1 - Third F-35B For The Italian Navy Makes First Flight
BL-4 about to land after its first flight. (Image credit: Roberto Resnigo – BestShotAircraft)

Where the aircraft is headed after being delivered to the Italian Navy is still not clear. Considered that two F-35Bs are already in the U.S., it seems quite likely that the third aircraft will remain in Italy, possibly becoming the first Italian Navy F-35 to land aboard Italy’s aircraft carrier ITS Cavour, the flagship of the Marina Militare, that has recently returned to Italy after successfully completing the “sea trials” for the operational use of the F-35B.

As often explained here at The Aviationist, the Italian Government is currently procuring 90 F-35s, 60 of those are F-35As and the remaining 30 ones are F-35Bs. Out of those 30 F-35Bs, 15 will go to the Navy and 15 to the Air Force. The Lightning II will replace the Navy’s ageing AV-8B+ Harrier II and will be embarked on the Cavour aircraft carrier and the new LHD Trieste. It is not completely clear, however, where the F-35s will be land-based.

This is what this Author wrote last year, commenting the news of the delivery of the first F-35B to the Air Force in February 2020:

The Gruppo Aerei Imbarcati, which will operate the F-35B within the Navy, is currently based in Grottaglie, close to the naval port of Taranto, home to the Cavour aircraft carrier [and to the Trieste landing helicopter dock (LHD), in the future]. However, according to some reports, the Italian Defense Chief of Staff has already identified Amendola Air Base, the MOB (Main Operating Base) of the F-35A within the ItAF (about 100NM northwest of Grottaglie), as the national MOB for both the CTOL (Convetional Take Off and Landing) and STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) versions of the Lightning II. This should prompt the relocation of the “Wolves” to Amendola, creating a joint Air Force/Navy flight line with common logistics and training, even though it would practically mean that the entire force would mostly be under Air Force control.

With both Italian Air Force’s and Navy’s F-35Bs based at Amendola AB, the Italians would replicate the British model that sees RAF Marham as MOB for a jointly manned “Lightning Force” made of Air Force (with the 207 and 617 squadrons) and Navy (with the 809 Naval Air Squadron that will be re-established in 2023) personnel, sharing aircraft, equipment and support infrastructures. The creation of an Italian Joint Lightning Force makes much sense: aircrew training, maintenance and at least part of the logistics could be concentrated in one place, with some significant savings. And if the selected base is Amendola, the Italian Joint Force could leverage at least some of the infrastructures built there to accommodate the Lightning. Indeed, preparation to host the F-35 in Amendola started in 2012 and today the “F-35 citadel” is literally a “base inside the base” with modern shelters and buildings located inside an access-controlled restricted zone created to isolate the 13° Gruppo’s area from the rest of the base. It must not be forgotten tha the advent of the F-35 has induced the Italian MoD to adopt tighter security measures than those in place before the arrival of a 5th generation technology and this becomes pretty evident if you think that all the photographs taken inside Amendola, must be reviewed one by one by security personnel so that no sensitive detail would be leaked. For sure, making Grottaglie ready for the F-35B would cost a lot of money and time, considered that the works to prepare the base for the Joint Strike Fighter were halted a couple of years ago.

In a post about the F-35B and the use of the aircraft as part of an Italian Joint Lightning Force published here at The Aviationist about 10 years ago our Editor David Cenciotti wrote:

“I don’t know if Italy is ready for a single type of aircraft for both ItAF and ItNy, capable of operating from the Cavour aircraft carrier as a single unit, something that would logically lead to the creation of a joint force similar to the British Joint Force Harrier and to the subsequent proposal of reabsorbing the unit into the Air Force, an option that the Navy might not accept….”

A decade later, the situation has probably not changed much.

In fact, while the final decision about the basing might still be uncertain, there is no doubt that the assignment of the third F-35B to the Air Force has made the Navy not happy. Navy officials have long challenged the decision of the Italian Air Force to procure the F-35B. The Italian Air Force considers the STOVL variant of the stealth aircraft indispensable for expeditionary scenarios and operations from unimproved and short landing strips.

But, does the Italian Air Force really need to trade such flexibility for a more expensive and complex airframe, with shorter maximum range, reduced flight envelope, external (in pod) gun? According to the Air Force planners and decision makers, yes: a worldwide survey of all the runways that can be used by military jet highlighted that the ratio, in Africa alone, was 1 to 10, that is, for each runway usable with conventional aircraft, there are ten shorter ones, that are only exploitable by STOVL aircraft.

Still, not everyone agrees, pointing out that within the U.S. military, the F-35B remains a prerogative of U.S. Marine Corps, that uses the type from its amphibious assault ships, while the U.S. Air Force, that is certainly involved in expeditionary operations much more than the ItAF will ever be, has never had the need to operate the STOVL-variant.

The former Italian Navy Chief of Staff, Adm. Luigi Binelli Mantelli wrote to the Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini an open letter (published by La Stampa newspaper) illustrating all the cons of assigning the STOVL jets to the Italian Air Force. The view of the retired Admiral is that the procurement of the F-35B should be exclusive to the Marina Militare: he argues that the purchase of variant B by the Air Force is a mistake because this version would be expensive, with complex maintenance and with different operational limitations compared to the A version operated by the ItAF. On the other hand, the Admiral supports the indispensability of the F-35B for the Navy to operate from “light” aircraft carriers, advising to divert all the STOVL-models to the Marina Militare. The initial requirement of the Navy was for 22 F-35Bs. With just 15 jets, one might expect that no more than 8-10 F-35Bs will be available at any given time, a number that is deemed not sufficient for the needs of the Italian naval aviation.

While it’s now hard to believe the decision to give the Air Force some (or half) of the total F-35Bs will be reversed, the Navy at least wanted to receive most (if not all) of the first F-35Bs so as to continue the transition of its pilots and expedite the achievement of the IOC (Initial Operational Capability) with the new aircraft as the training required by the at-sea operations is far more complex than the one required for land-based operations. But the Italian MoD decided to give the Air Force its F-35B so that its pilots could start training on the new aircraft too. And Amendola, as explained above, has already been prepared to accommodate the new STOVL-models.

Whatever your opinion on this subject is (this is a much debated topic in Italy) it’s pretty evident that much more will have to be done to improve synergies between the two branches and make an Italian Joint Lightning Force a reality.

The situation remains more or less unchanged.

The Italian Navy carried has been declared ready to accept the F-35B while the Italian Air Force has taken continued to operate with its only B, that the service has presented to the public for the first time last year, during an Expeditionary Proof Of Concept on Pantelleria island. The same aircraft has been shown flying in “Beast Mode” alongside an A model and has recently returned to Pantelleria again earlier this month, along with a B model of the Royal Air Force embarked aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth for an Expeditionary Combat Support Event (ECSE) conducted as part of the large Falcon Strike 2021 exercise.

“The Italian Air Force needs the F-35B to be able to operate from short runways, a capability we had in the 1960s with the G-91 and lost with its successor, the AMX,” told us Gen. Gianni Candotti, the Italian Air Force’s operational commander during the ECSE at Pantelleria. “The lack of such ability has caused us issues for quite a long time. When we deployed to Afghanistan [in 2008], we first had to find an alternate airbase [Mazar-i-Sharif] with a runway that was suitable for the Tornado, then we started working on the runway at the forward operating location that was hosting the Italian base [Herat] and, after one year, once we had extended the runway, we were eventually able to operate from there [with the AMX]. The F-35B would have allowed us to operate from there since the beginning. That being said, while it is possible, operating from aircraft carriers is not our immediate objective: that is not the reason why we have selected this kind of aircraft.”

Interestingly, considered the number of F-35Bs both the Air Force and Navy are getting, Candotti didn’t rule out the eventual joint command similar to the British one that’s being considered (at least among analysts). “Everything is possible. Our British colleagues did it with the Harrier and continue with the F-35B. There are various ways to integrate from minimum collaboration to full integration. It is being studied.”

BL 4 2 - Third F-35B For The Italian Navy Makes First Flight
The Italian Navy should receive 15 F-35B. BL-4 is its third Lightning II aircraft. (Image credit: Roberto Resnigo – BestShotAircraft)

f5260c1a4f5417527329915544c2932f?s=125&d=mm&r=g - Third F-35B For The Italian Navy Makes First 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.

F-35Bs Armed With Gun Pod Continue Supporting Operation Octave Quartz With Armed Aerial Patrols over Somalia

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - F-35Bs Armed With Gun Pod Continue Supporting Operation Octave Quartz With Armed Aerial Patrols over Somalia
An F-35B departs the tanker after aerial refueling over Somalia. (Image credit: U.S. DoD)

The U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs are among the combat aircraft supporting OOQ (Operation Octave Quartz) in the Horn of Africa.

Octave Quartz is the name of the U.S. operation to reposition forces in Somalia to other East Africa operating locations while maintaining pressure on violent extremists and supporting partner forces. “Joint Task Force – Quartz operations support U.S. Africa Command and international efforts that promote a peaceful and stable Somalia. Violent extremist organizations like al-Shabaab present long-term threats to U.S. and regional interests,” reads every public statement released by the U.S. DoD about the operation in the Horn of Africa.

Among the aircraft providing CAS (Close Air Support) to the U.S. forces in the region are the U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning IIs assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 122 also known as the Flying Leathernecks, deployed off Somalia aboard amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8).

The Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and embarked Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 164 (Reinforced), 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived off the coast of Somalia as part of the Joint Forces Maritime Component Command for Joint Task Force – Quartz, on Dec. 21, 2020.

The aircraft are, at least externally, in the standard USMC F-35B configuration: they carry radar reflectors (aka RCS – Radar Cross Section – enhancers), no external loads (sometimes the aircraft are fitted with the AIM-9 launchers) and the ventral GAU-22 25mm gun, in a GPU (Gun Pod Unit)- 9/A.

F 35B inverted over Somalia - F-35Bs Armed With Gun Pod Continue Supporting Operation Octave Quartz With Armed Aerial Patrols over Somalia
An F-35B rolling inverted after refueling from a U.S. Air Force KC-10 over Somalia. Note the GPU-9/A with the GAU-22/U gun (Image credit: USAF)

The General Dynamics GAU-22 25mm uses a unique four-barrel configuration that was developed from the highly successful five-barrel, 25mm GAU-12/U gun also built by General Dynamics. As often highlighted, although it was designed with LO (Low Observability) characteristics, the external pod unit degrades the F-35’s radar cross section making the 5th generation aircraft more visibile to radars. Still, this is acceptable (as it is for the non-stealthy AV-8B Harrier jets they will replace) for the scenarios where the U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs are called to carry out CAS missions (read here about the so-called “third day of war” configuration) in permissive airspace.

On-call CAS may require the combat aircraft to use the gun to perform a strafing pass and lighten pressure on the friendly forces, or use PGMs to destroy insurgent vehicles or compounds. When needed CAS assets can perform the so-called “show of presence” or “show of force”. We discussed the differences between the two in this article, here’s an excerpt:

Although many consider the low and fast flyby a “show of force” (SOF) is worth remembering that this should be considered a “show of presence” (SOP): the first usually implies the use of weapons or warning gun shots (not directly on the target but in its vicinity), the second is normally carried out to scare someone off with noise. But it’s not a rule:

“For sure, what we can say is that a SOF is called when there is the need for borderline “kinematic” missions that may include release of flares or even warning shots,” says our contributor and combat pilot Alex “Gonzo” Olivares, who’s flown the Tornado in combat. “During a reconnaissance mission over Afghanistan, I was called to carry out an immediate SOP / SOF in favor of some ground troops that were under attack. On that occasion the purpose was to show the insurgents that the troops could have had the support of the air component so we released flares and also used the afterburner.”

“Dealing with SOF/SOP what I can say is that the doctrine is very broad and the way these are performed depend very heavily on the rules of engagement (ROE) of the coalition but also and above all on the scenario: for example the tactics may change if the flyby has to take place as part of a crisis scenario or during peacetime ops.  In addition, a Show Of Force is usually ordered to bolster and reassure friendly forces. Moreover these flybys are military in nature but often serve both diplomatic and military purposes: they may even influence other governments or political-military organizations to refrain from belligerent acts.”

Whatever, the purpose is to disperse or intimidate the enemy. These shows are usually carried out by one aircraft, with the other one providing air cover and armed overwatch. The presence of a wingman is important as his/her role is to spot potential threats (for instance the plume of a SAM – Surface to Air Missile) and radio instructions so that the other aircraft, flying low, within the envelope of SAMs, MANPADS and small arms, can visually detect them, release flares and avoid the incoming missile or flak (anti-aircraft fire).

F 35B OOQ - F-35Bs Armed With Gun Pod Continue Supporting Operation Octave Quartz With Armed Aerial Patrols over Somalia
A U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 164 (Reinforced), 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, prepares to receive fuel from a KC-10 Extender assigned to the 908th Expeditionary Aircraft Refueling Squadron, during an in-air refueling mission supporting Operation Octave Quartz with armed aerial patrols over Somalia, Jan. 5, 2021. Marine F-35Bs support to OOQ demonstrates the U.S. military’s ability to hold adversaries such as al Shabaab at risk with flexible, precise and lethal force capable of rapidly responding anywhere on the globe. The mission of OOQ is to reposition U.S. Department of Defense personnel from Somalia to other locations in East Africa. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Taylor Harrison)

The gun pod was also carried by the U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs assigned to the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 “Wake Island Avengers”, deployed with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, during the type’s first operational deployment in international waters off the coast of Djibouti in 2018.

On September 27, 2018, an undisclosed number of U.S. Marine Corps F-35B with VMFA-211, launched the first-ever combat mission by a U.S. military F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. The long-range strikes that struck insurgent targets in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, took off from the U.S. Navy Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD-2) on station in the Persian Gulf. The aircraft flew that first raid with the gun pod and GBU-32 JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) in the internal weapon bays but bomb markings applied to some of the aircraft’s front landing gear door showed two different types of PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions): the GBU-12 500-lb LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs) on the top row, and GBU-32 JDAMs (bottom row).

Gun reticle highlight - F-35Bs Armed With Gun Pod Continue Supporting Operation Octave Quartz With Armed Aerial Patrols over Somalia
Barely visible, a target reticle above the GBU-12 silhouettes marks the use of the GAU-22 25mm gun pod.

Anyway, back to the current operation in the Horn of Africa , while the Pentagon has confirmed that the F-35Bs from USS Makin Island are flying armed patrols over Somalia it’s not clear whether they have carried out any of the recent airstrikes on al-Shabaab, the Somali terrorist group that attacked Manda Bay Airfield, Kenya, also known as “Camp Simba”, a base used by both U.S. and Kenyan forces, on Jan. 5, 2020: the U.S. Africa Command news updates don’t provide details about the assets in the airstrikes. And, it’s also worth noticing, that U.S. Air Force F-16CM are also supporting OOQ.

Italian Air Force F-35B Makes Official Debut During Expeditionary Proof of Concept Exercise

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Italian Air Force F-35B Makes Official Debut During Expeditionary Proof of Concept Exercise
The Italian Air Force F-35B performs a short take off during the Expeditionary Proof of Concept. (All images: Giovanni Colla).

On Jul. 30, 2020, the Italian Air Force presented its capability to use short runways and project power on very short notice from forward operating locations as part of an “Expeditionary” PoC (Proof of Concept) held at Pantelleria, the tiny island located in the Strait of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea, some 100 km (62 mi) southwest of Sicily and 60 km (37 mi) east of the Tunisian coast.

The exercise saw the participation of the first F-35B STOVL aircraft of the Italian Air Force, the airframe serialled MM7453/32-14: the goal of the PoC was to deploy an F-35B aircraft to the Pantelleria airport with accompanying operational/technical-logistical support, in order to demonstrate the ability of the air force to project and use the 5th generation aircraft far from home, in a semi-permissive environment, on an austere/bare runway normally not usable by other conventional aircraft and with limited Force Protection provided by the host nation.

PANTELLERIA GIOVANNI COLLA 01 - Italian Air Force F-35B Makes Official Debut During Expeditionary Proof of Concept Exercise
The first Italian Air Force F-35B during the PoC at Pantelleria on Jul. 30, 2020. (All images by Giovanni Colla).

For this reason, the drills involved several units of the Italian Air Force: the F-35B of the 32° Stormo (Wing) from Amendola Air Base was supported on its way to Pantelleria by a KC-130J tanker. The landing area was surveilled by an MQ-9A Predator B (also from the 32° Stormo) that streamed live imagery to the “Combat Controllers” (Italian Air Force Raiders of the 17° Stormo) whose role was to take over the control of the airfield and provide coordination and control of the flying activity. The Air Riflemen of the 16° Stormo, provided the Force Protection of the deployed personnel and assets.

PANTELLERIA GIOVANNI COLLA 08 - Italian Air Force F-35B Makes Official Debut During Expeditionary Proof of Concept Exercise
The ItAF F-35B was refueled by the KC-130J both in the air and on the ground.

As part of the PoC, after performing a short landing, the F-35B was refueled on the ground directly from the KC-130J tanker aircraft using the Air Landed Aircraft Refuelling Point (a special system providing simultaneous refueling on of up to 4 aircraft by pumping fuel from the KC-130’s tanks) and was armed in a very short time before taking off again; an activity that saw the involvement of the RSV (Reparto Sperimentale Volo – Italian Air Force Test Wing), because it had never been carried out operationally before.

PANTELLERIA GIOVANNI COLLA 04 - Italian Air Force F-35B Makes Official Debut During Expeditionary Proof of Concept Exercise
The F-35B is refueled using the Air Landed Aircraft Refuelling Point.

“The F-35B is probably the most eye-catching, considered that it is the first time you see it, but it represents just one of the elements of a larger expeditionary system that makes the Air Force capable to project power; a capability that not only is important for the Air Force, but for the whole nation” said Lt. Gen. Rosso, Italian Air Force Chief of Staff during the media briefing of the exercise. “This kind of exercise has a technical relevance, as it allows us to train and prepare all the components that are needed to conduct expeditionary operations: we can fix minor issues that a new capability brings and find the right integration between all the players. Moreover, from a strategic point of view, we can demonstrate that the Italian Air Force is among the few air arms in the world to be able to express an aerospace power projection capability: we are not only able to operate from home, from our usual airbases; we are able to operate from other airbases that already make the logistics and support available; and we are able to project, when and if needed, our capabilities, in an autonomous way. It’s an important capability that we are really proud of.”

PANTELLERIA GIOVANNI COLLA 05 - Italian Air Force F-35B Makes Official Debut During Expeditionary Proof of Concept Exercise
The F-35B on the ground at Pantelleria during the Expeditionary POC.

“This capability is extremely important to face new scenarios or situations like the one we had during the Gulf War”, added Rosso. “Our Tornado jets were deployed to an airbase [Al Dhafra Air Base, UAE] that was far away from the area of operations: this implied that our aircraft had to fly several hours and carry out several aerial refuelings before reaching their targets. The ability to operate from shorter runways can allow the selection of a closer airbase and solve the problem. In terms of flexibility, just think that in Africa there are about 100 runways that have a length between 2,800 and 3,000 meters but there are 20 times as many runways between 1,000 and 1,500 meters in length. Being able to use short runways allows you to multiply your ability to deploy where needed, in a more convenient and faster way, especially closer to the area of operation. Having an aircraft that is capable of taking off from shorter runways allows incredible flexibility even in those scenarios that are currently only barely conceivable. In case of conflict, aircraft that are able to operate from shorter runways can also be dispersed to increase their survivability. This flexibility to operate from bare/austere runways or even highways makes the air power more unpredictable and represents a fundamental capability in any scenario. For this reason, after carefully studying all the scenarios and costs, the Italian Air Force has identified, as done by other air arms, a mixed fleet of F-35A and B aircraft, as the most economically convenient and effective configuration.”

PANTELLERIA GIOVANNI COLLA 09 - Italian Air Force F-35B Makes Official Debut During Expeditionary Proof of Concept Exercise
The F-35B is armed with an AIM-120 AMRAAM in the internal weapons bay.

When asked about the possible creation of a joint management of the F-35B fleet between the Italian Air Force and Navy, Rosso said: “This is one of the things we are discussing. I believe that a joint capability is important regardless of the machine and the systems you use. I think nobody can afford to work alone, but we have to do teamwork, because we are a single defense tool at the service of the country. Beyond what may be some controversies, as reported in the newspapers, I think there is the awareness and desire to make each one’s own competence and skills available to the country in a synergistic way. It is clear that the F-35B is an aircraft that has great flexibility and is capable of solving a series of problems or addressing a series of needs of both the Navy and, in my opinion even more, the Air Force. Being able to put together the skills and experiences that the individual Armed Forces are able to make available, respecting the tasks of each, I think is something the whole country will benefit of. I trust that this will be the direction in which we will move, without any service wanting to override the other, respecting the prerogatives of each armed force. I think working together for a single goal as a single Armed Force is a duty towards the taxpayer.”

PANTELLERIA GIOVANNI COLLA 11 - Italian Air Force F-35B Makes Official Debut During Expeditionary Proof of Concept Exercise
The F-35B taxies at Pantelleria airport.

In order to understand what’s the status of the F-35B program and the controversies Rosso referred to, I suggest you reading the article this Author wrote in February 2020 (here’s a short exerpt):

The Italian Government is currently procuring 90 F-35s, 60 of those are F-35As and the remaining 30 ones are F-35Bs. Out of those 30 F-35Bs, 15 will go to the Navy and 15 to the Air Force. The Lightning II will replace the Navy’s ageing AV-8B+ Harrier II and will be embarked on the Cavour aircraft carrier and the new LHD Trieste. It is not completely clear, however, where the F-35s will be land-based.

The Gruppo Aerei Imbarcati “Wolves”, which will operate the F-35B within the Navy, is currently based in Grottaglie, close to the naval port of Taranto, home to the Cavour aircraft carrier [and to the Trieste landing helicopter dock (LHD), in the future]. However, according to some reports, the Italian Defense Chief of Staff has already identified Amendola Air Base, the MOB (Main Operating Base) of the F-35A within the ItAF (about 100NM northwest of Grottaglie), as the national MOB for both the CTOL (Convetional Take Off and Landing) and STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) versions of the Lightning II. This should prompt the relocation of the “Wolves” to Amendola, creating a joint Air Force/Navy flight line with common logistics and training, even though it would practically mean that the entire force would mostly be under Air Force control.

With both Italian Air Force’s and Navy’s F-35Bs based at Amendola AB, the Italians would replicate the British model that sees RAF Marham as MOB for a jointly manned “Lightning Force” made of Air Force (with the 207 and 617 squadrons) and Navy (with the 809 Naval Air Squadron that will be re-established in 2023) personnel, sharing aircraft, equipment and support infrastructures. The creation of an Italian Joint Lightning Force makes much sense: aircrew training, maintenance and at least part of the logistics could be concentrated in one place, with some significant savings. And if the selected base is Amendola, the Italian Joint Force could leverage at least some of the infrastructures built there to accommodate the Lightning. Indeed, preparation to host the F-35 in Amendola started in 2012 and today the “F-35 citadel” is literally a “base inside the base” with modern shelters and buildings located inside an access-controlled restricted zone created to isolate the 13° Gruppo’s area from the rest of the base. It must not be forgotten tha the advent of the F-35 has induced the Italian MoD to adopt tighter security measures than those in place before the arrival of a 5th generation technology and this becomes pretty evident if you think that all the photographs taken inside Amendola, must be reviewed one by one by security personnel so that no sensitive detail would be leaked. For sure, making Grottaglie ready for the F-35B would cost a lot of money and time, considered that the works to prepare the base for the Joint Strike Fighter were halted a couple of years ago.

As a side note, while it explores the capabilities of the new F-35B with the support of the RSV, the 32° Stormo continues to grow its experience with the F-35A it first received in 2016: the Wing’s child unit, the 13° Gruppo (Squadron), that achieved the IOC (Initial Operational Capability) in Nov. 2018, has just successfully completed their second tour of duty in support of NATO’s Icelandic Air Policing mission, dubbed Operation Northern Lighting II.

A special H/T goes to our friend and contributor Giovanni Colla, who shot all the photographs you can find in the article and for providing additional details about the PoC. Many thanks to the Italian Air Force for inviting us to this interesting event.

Photographer Snaps Images Of Two-Ship RAF F-35B Lightning Aircraft Flying Low Level through the Lake District

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Photographer Snaps Images Of Two-Ship RAF F-35B Lightning Aircraft Flying Low Level through the Lake District
An F-35B Lightning aircraft flying at low level through the Lake District. (Image credit: Simon Pearson-Cougill)

On Jun. 11, 2020, two F-35B Lightning aircraft belonging to the 207 Squadron of the RAF (Royal Air Force) flew at low level through the Lake Districk, UK. The aircraft, ZM145/BK-11 and ZM147/BK-13, reportedly flying as “DOOM 31” and “DOOM 32” (not confirmed), from RAF Marham were the first two-ship to operate in the LFA17: according to the local spotters, the only ever time British F-35Bs had flown in the low flying area in northwestern England was a single-ship, using radio callsign “MARHAM 22”, on Nov. 12, 2019.

Fortunately, photographer Simon Pearson-Cougill was there and took the shots you can find in this post.

“Me and my 9 year old son (Kai Pearson-Cougill) go up to the lakes Low level spotting when we can,” Simon wrote us in an email. “Yesterday we arrived at Thirlmere Lake in the Lake District (LFA17); it wasn’t a good day and weather was very windy and we had been there most of the day with nothing happening and was going to pack up and go home when ZM333, an Embraer Phenom 100 from RAF Cramwell, came through. This gave us hope that the wind wasn’t too high and that we might just get other fast jets through.”

F35B Lightning lakes 11th June 20 1 - Photographer Snaps Images Of Two-Ship RAF F-35B Lightning Aircraft Flying Low Level through the Lake District
The two F-35Bs approaching at low level. (All images: Simon Pearson-Cougill)
F35B Lightning Lakes 11th June 5 - Photographer Snaps Images Of Two-Ship RAF F-35B Lightning Aircraft Flying Low Level through the Lake District
The two F-35Bs get closer to the photographer.

Well, it looks like they were just right: “Then about 15 mins later we heard a call up on the radio requesting a route across country which I thought may just be normal traffic. But then 15 mins later another call for low level in the Lakes made my ears prick up a bit more. I said to my son to get ready just in case and a few minutes later whilst looking through my viewfinder in the distance at Dunmail Rise I could see two jets which at first I though were F-15s. But as this dipped down into the Lake I couldn’t believe my eyes that they were the F-35B Lightnings from RAF Marham. I started to shake and shout to my son get ready and started snapping away knowing that this had to be one of the first times a two-ship F-35 had gone low level in the Lake district. After we had taken our photos and they had passed, me and my son high fived each other and was a really good feeling that we would share them memories and that piece of history for the rest of our lives!”

Well done, Simon and Kai!

F35B Lightning Lakes 11th June 2 - Photographer Snaps Images Of Two-Ship RAF F-35B Lightning Aircraft Flying Low Level through the Lake District
207 Sqn F-35B maneuvering at low level.
F35B Lightning Lakes 11th June 3 - Photographer Snaps Images Of Two-Ship RAF F-35B Lightning Aircraft Flying Low Level through the Lake District
F-35B with its characteristic wingtip vortices.
F35B Lightning Lakes 11th June 6 - Photographer Snaps Images Of Two-Ship RAF F-35B Lightning Aircraft Flying Low Level through the Lake District
The one on Jun. 11, 2020, was the first time a two-ship F-35B was spotted at low level in LFA17.

The 207 Squadron, or 207(OC) Squadron, is the first unit dedicated to F-35 pilot training outside of the United States. The 207 Squadron shares RAF Marham with the “Dambusters” of 617 Squadron (and they should be joined by the Fleet Air Arm’s 809 Naval Air Squadron by 2023). Aircraft, personnel, equipment and support infrastructure, dubbed “Lightning Force”, are pooled and jointly manned by Royal Air Force and Royal Navy personnel. To reflect that, 207 Squadron was purposefully chosen because it has both Air Force and Naval lineage.

2018 f 35b lightning ii raf e1592001810516 - Photographer Snaps Images Of Two-Ship RAF F-35B Lightning Aircraft Flying Low Level through the Lake District
This RAF F-35B model is available from AirModels. Click here to buy yours.


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