Tag: Italian Navy

Dissecting The Italian Defense Planning Document For 2022-2024

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Dissecting The Italian Defense Planning Document For 2022-2024
An Italian Air Force F-35B during a joint training mission with an Italian Navy F-35B. (Photo: Aeronautica Militare)

The Italian MoD is continuing the modernization of the military, with investments in many areas that will also sustain the national industry.

The Italian government published, during the summer, the new multiyear defense planning document (Documento Programmatico Pluriennale della Difesa) for 2022-2024, which illustrates the funding needed by the Italian military to sustain and modernize its forces. Many important investments can be found in the document, but let’s proceed in order.

The strategic situation is based, as last year, on a reference scenario, called the “extended Mediterranean” region, which is currently subject to many important geopolitical changes. Among the critical aspects of the region, the document mentions the Libyan situation, the tensions between coastal countries that are rearming their military forces, the disputes about sea boundaries and commercial routes. These challenges add up to the global situation, with COVID-19 and the new role of Russia and China becoming increasingly important.

The Italian Ministry of Defense is focused on maintaining a balanced military power, while also renovating and potentiating it with new capabilities. An important novelty in the last few years are the space and cyber domains, which are set to provide new space for innovation in the informational and decisional sectors.

The systemic shock caused by the dramatic evolution of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, whose economic and social repercussions are noticeable in an international context already burdened by the echo of the pandemic and by multiple situations of unresolved conflict, will radically change the world order and European security that we have known so far, says the document.

The invasion brought back the attention to the importance of symmetrical conflicts against near peer adversaries, after decades of asymmetrical conflict against irregular forces, revealed a significant conventional, cyber and space threat, and even evoked again the nuclear threat. The return of war in Europe, which someone thought would accentuate the disagreements among the European countries, has instead determined the effect of cementing the cohesion of NATO and of raising the role of the European Union to an organization with a geopolitical value.

This is contrary to the expectations of Russia, which believed it could count on a disunited NATO and on a weak European Union unable to decide. Also, this was an eye-opener about the need for a strengthened military, after years of postponed investments which were needed to increase its deterrent value and to respect the commitments, undertaken in the NATO context, for the achievement of the threshold of 2% of GDP for the Defense budget.

In this perspective, the Defense minister Lorenzo Guerini outlined four fundamental strategic priorities: promote an appropriate positioning of Italy in the context of international security; give further impetus to the process of adapting the military instrument; fully exploit the potential that can be expressed by the Defense Industry; continue efforts in terms of policies suitable for addressing current and future challenges.

Let’s now talk about the programs in place to reach the objectives of this year’s Defense planning.

One of the main activities for the aerospace component of the Command, Control and Communications (C3) is the completion of the acquisition of the Gulfstream G550-based CAEW/BM&C capability, as well as a new Electronic Warfare capability. The program, known as P-MMMS (Piattaforma Multi-Missione, Multi- Sensore/Multi-Mission, Multi-Sensor Platform), is aimed at obtaining a modern asset that can be integrated in a net-centric C4ISTAR architecture and later adapted for multi-domain operations.

The resulting C6ISTAR-EW-enabled assets are the CAEW, Spydr and JAMMS aircraft that have been in the works for some years. As we reported last year, a number of “clean” G550 are being acquired to be converted at a later stage, like the one delivered earlier this year. These aircraft, that the document calls “green base JAMMS”, are scheduled to be converted in the Full Mission Capable CAEW and Electronic Combat variants. A contract for the conversion of two more CAEW aircraft might have already been signed.

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The first Gulfstream G550 delivered to the Italian Air Force to be converted for the P-MMMS program. (Photo: Aeronautica Militare)

” data-medium-file=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/dissecting-the-italian-defense-planning-document-for-2022-2024-5.jpg” data-large-file=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/dissecting-the-italian-defense-planning-document-for-2022-2024-1.jpg” class=”size-large wp-image-80768″ src=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/dissecting-the-italian-defense-planning-document-for-2022-2024-1.jpg” alt width=”706″ height=”470″ srcset=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/dissecting-the-italian-defense-planning-document-for-2022-2024-1.jpg 706w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/dissecting-the-italian-defense-planning-document-for-2022-2024-5.jpg 460w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/dissecting-the-italian-defense-planning-document-for-2022-2024-6.jpg 128w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/dissecting-the-italian-defense-planning-document-for-2022-2024-7.jpg 768w, https://theaviationist.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Italy_Defence_Planning_2022_2.jpg 1024w” sizes=”(max-width: 706px) 100vw, 706px”>

The first Gulfstream G550 delivered to the Italian Air Force to be converted for the P-MMMS program. (Photo: Aeronautica Militare)

An interesting piece of information possibly related to the P-MMMS program can be found under the Force Protection and Engagement Capability entry, which hints at the Electronic Combat variant of the aircraft possibly being the EC-37B Compass Call. In fact, the entry says: “Completion of the acquisition program for new aircraft equipped for and dedicated to Electronic Warfare operations (EC-37B)”.

As you may know already, the Compass Call system is an airborne tactical electronic attack weapon system installed on a heavily modified version of the C-130 Hercules, called EC-130H Compass Call. This system disrupts enemy command and control communications, radars, and navigation systems and limits adversary coordination, which is essential for enemy force management. Following the type’s retirement announced in 2014, the U.S. Air Force initiated the Compass Call Rehost program, which will move the current Compass Call systems from the EC-130H to the new EC-37B, based on the Gulfstream G550 Conformal Airborne Early Warning Aircraft (CAEW) airframe.

Staying on the Electronic Warfare topic, the EC-27J JEDI (Jamming and Electronic Defense Instrumentation) fleet is being expanded to a total of three aircraft, with two new ones in the RRP2 (Risk Reduction Phase 2) configuration being converted, together with the procurement of their ground segment and mission system. As we already reported, the EC-27J is a variant of the successful Leonardo C-27J Spartan military transport aircraft that has been heavily modified to perform EW missions: the aircraft carries an internal JEDI system that is coupled with a tail antenna to jam the frequency bands used to remotely operate IEDs and UAVs, in order to neutralize them and thus protect personnel on the ground around areas of interest.

The capabilities provided by the secretive EC-27J (whose official designation is YEC-27J in accordance with Italy’s MOD Mission Design Series) are intended for the execution of convoy escort missions where it provides from the air an electromagnetic safety bubble. The aircraft was deployed to Erbil, Iraq, for “Prima Parthica” (as the Italian Armed Forces contingent supporting Operation Inherent Resolve is dubbed at national level). Interestingly, the EC-27J of the Italian Air Force is the only non-American asset flying the Electronic Support and Protection mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

Speaking of the C-27J, the planning mentions the works for the completion of the MC-27J Praetorian program. The MC-27 is a special variant of the Spartan developed to provide support for the Special Forces of the Comando Operativo Forze Speciali (COFS). Three C-27J that were already in service and the ItAF were converted to the Praetorian configuration with the addition of mission systems, C3ISR equipment and a palletized ATK GAU-23 30mm automatic cannon, the same used by the USAF AC-130J.

The Defense planning also includes the Spydr, mentioning the leasing of an aircraft equipped with specialized sensors as gap filler until a dedicated asset capable of assuring a full threat detection. This entry should refer to the two King Air 350s, one of which is a mission-equipped aircraft and the other one used for training purposes, leased from L3Harris. The aircraft is expected to be replaced by Gulfstream G550 aircraft with AISREW Mission Systems whose Foreign Military Sale was approved by the U.S. State Department in 2020.

Two aircraft will be provided by Italy to be converted, with L3Harris being the company contracted to carry out the modification. The “final” shape of the Italian AISREW aircraft should be similar to the one of the Australian MC-55 Peregrine, a SIGINT-configured G550 that L3Harris is providing to the Royal Australian Air Force and developed based on the experience of the EC-37 Compass Call II and other variants. It seems likely that all the modifications will be embedded at a later stage and the first airframe will be initially used for training purposes.

Italy is also continuing its participation in the Maritime Multi Mission Aircraft (M3A) program with other NATO allies, whose aim is to procure a dedicated aircraft for long range surveillance above and belove the sea surface. The M3A is expected to create a new generation of maritime surveillance aircraft that will eventually replace older platform currently in service.

The planning then moves to the information superiority section, with its Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance capabilities enabled by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. The first to be mentioned is the EUROMALE program, the first unmanned aerial system (UAS) designed for flight in non-segregated airspace. The airframe is a twin-turboprop with pusher-propeller engines being developed by an Airbus, Leonardo and Dassault consortium. The system is set to provide a generational leap compared to current assets, integrating open architecture, high modularity and ease of evolution.

The other programs in the ISR section are related to the continuation of the modernization, potentiation and completion of the MQ-9 fleet, all listed under the Mid Life Modernization (MLM) and operational capabilities maintenance programs. One of the focuses of these programs is the payload, with the upgrade of sensors and command and control systems to the latest standards.

The document mentions: ”The aircraft will guarantee increased levels of safety and protection in convoys escort missions, providing a flexible defense capability that can be expressed from the air. It will also introduce a new protection option aimed both at forces on the ground and for the benefit of aerial assets during high intensity operations and, ultimately, to protect civilians in the event of a hybrid threat”. This explanation, which was also in last year’s document, was said to refer to the weaponization of the MQ-9.

The weapons were explicitly mentioned in a subsequent entry: “Modernization and renewal of the RPA fleet of the MLE category, the Predator platform, related weapons and interim solutions”. Actually, the U.S. State Department already approved in 2015 a possible FMS to Italy for the weaponization of the MQ-9, but there is no follow-on info about it. The FMS package included AGM-114R2 Hellfire missiles, GBU-12 and GBU-49 laser guided bombs, GBU-38 JDAM and GBU-54 Laser JDAM bombs.

The Mid Life Modernization includes the procurement of two new MQ-9A Block 5 aircraft and a ground station, in addition to the upgrade of the other five to the same configuration. One of the new Predators (the name Reaper has not been adopted in Italy) will replace the one shot down in Libya in 2019. Also, the Italian MoD is looking for a new RPA that will replace the MQ-1C Predator A+.

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A rendering of the Tempest 6th gen aircraft. (Image: BAE Systems)

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A rendering of the Tempest 6th gen aircraft. (Image: BAE Systems)

While it didn’t provide any new details, this year’s document mentions again the Tempest 6th generation fighter aircraft and the wider Future Combat Air System (FCAS) program. Tempest is intended to preserve the dominance of the air combat power by capitalizing the Italian and British participation to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. FCAS is described in the program summary as a system of systems, with an optionally unmanned aircraft, manned-unmanned teaming, advanced sensors and related technologies.

The UK, Italy and Sweden signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2021 to collaborate on the project, transforming the British FCAS project in a major international endeavour. As of now, Sweden has not yet fully committed to join Tempest, but it is closely observing the process while working on the wider FCAS effort. Anyway, the three countries aspire to develop the concepts, sharing workload while maximizing their national expertise as they strive towards a common goal. The goal of the MoU is to have an equal participation of the signatory countries in the activities related to Tempest, with positive effects on each own defense industry, small and medium enterprises, research institutes and universities.

Japan is also joining the FCAS program, after a Letter of Arrangement signed earlier this year with the UK. The two countries will conduct cooperative research in fighter jet sensor technology, focusing on what has been called the “Jaguar” system. The “Jaguar” aims at the development of universal frequency sensor technology to allow aircraft to “better detect future threats from air, land and sea, quickly and accurately locating targets and denying surveillance technology operated by adversaries. Japan’s expected role in the FCAS effort has since expanded, including the JNAAM long-range air-to-air missile (which will benefit from the Meteor BVRAAM technology) and a possible merge of the indigenous F-X program with Tempest.

After the 6th gen, the document moves to the current 5th gen with the F-35 Lightning II. The MoD says the program is proceeding as planned for the first two tranches of aircraft, called Phase 1 and Phase 2a. Phase 1 satisfied the requirements for the acquisition of the first 28 aircraft, their engines, equipment, initial expenses and retrofit, together with logistical support until 2022 and the preparation of the national sites in Amendola, Ghedi and the Cavour aircraft carrier.

Now, the Phase 2a has been initiated thanks to a strategy that will avoid further delays in the program and savings which could amount up to one billion euros. This phase covers the procurement of 27 new aircraft, together with their engines and equipment, and the extension of the logistical support. This will allow for a full operational capability from 2030. Also, by the end of the year, the MoD will start the preliminary negotiation for Phase 2b, which will lead to the acquisition of a further 35 aircraft. The total expense expected until 2032 is of seven billion euros. Also, the revenues from the F-35 program on the national industries have reached, by the end of 2021, a total of € 5.17 billion.

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An UH-169B of the Italian Army, used to train crews for the future AW169 LUH in the final configuration. (Photo: Leonardo)

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An UH-169B of the Italian Army, used to train crews for the future AW169 LUH in the final configuration. (Photo: Leonardo)

The Defense planning moves on with the assets currently in service. The Eurofighter Typhoon program now mentions the development of next generation, advanced technology sensors to better promote the national industry in the transition towards the 6th generation. At the same time, the Tornado program is looking to the upgrade of the aircraft to solve obsolescence issues due to the aging technology and to extend the operational life until the planned phase-out date (which has not yet been officially decided).

The Italian Air Force will also work on the completion of its helicopter fleet for the Search And Rescue and Slow Mover Intercept missions. The first entry sees the completion of the acquisition of the HH-139 rescue helicopter, which is an interim solution for a medium helicopter. Earlier this year, the ItAF took delivery of the last HH-139B and the service will now move to the conversion of the HH-139A helicopters to the new B variant. At the same time, the HH-101 CSAR helicopter will be upgraded to the Mission Enhanced standard to better sustain operations in non-permissive environments.

Talking about support assets, this year’s planning confirms the intention of the Italian MoD to acquire two new KC-46 tankers and upgrade the current KC-767s to the same standard. Moreover, the initiation of a strategic transport program is mentioned, without providing further details.

The next topic covered by the planning is the training. The ItAF will strengthen the Operational Training Infrastructure (OTI), focusing on a high integration between live, virtual and constructive activities, while continuing to work with the T-345 and T-346 programs. The OTI program will develop a geo-federate, modular, resilient and secure open architecture, connecting flight simulators, simulation systems and C2 systems to create a common synthetic environment that will reproduce real, complex and highly variable operational environments. An integral part of this program is the modernization of the Poligono Interforze Salto di Quirra (PISQ).

Important news are coming also for the helicopter training, with a new helicopter flight school being established in Viterbo, currently home of the Army’s flight school. The new school will exploit the ItAF’s expertise in this sector, with the aim of satisfying the requirement for a joint national training centre for all helicopter pilots, as well as satisfying the requirements for the equivalent civilian licenses and offering training to international partners. The ItAF is also leading the efforts for the new school on behalf of the armed forces and law enforcement agencies.

The current plan is based around a training area, an operational area (with maintenance, storage and helicopter recovery functions) and a logistic area. The school will employ the new AW169 Light Utility Helicopter to satisfy the requirements of the phase 3b of the training, exploiting the gradual replacement of the six legacy helicopter fleets with the new helicopter. The phase 3b training on the LUH will follow the phase 3a currently performed on the TH-500 helicopter, providing an advanced training phase between the initial 3a training and the helicopters assigned to the operational units.

The school will have a structure similar to the one for the jet pilots at Lecce-Galatina Air Base. In fact, the project is based around an Integrated Training System (ITS) which will include the LUH and the Ground Based Training System (GBTS). The GBTS will be in charge of the ground school, with an Academic Training System, Full Flight Simulators and Flight training Devices, advanced briefing and debriefing systems.

Obviously, the Army will continue to work on the LUH program and, after a first tranche of 17 helicopters approved in 2019, a new tranche of 33 helicopters has been approved. This new combat support helicopter, as we already reported, is not the only new entry in the Italian Army. In fact, the works are proceeding also on the new Leonardo AW249 NEES (Nuovo Elicottero da Esplorazione e Scorta / New Exploration and Escort Helicopter), which is in the middle of an extensive flight test campaign. The MoD expects to procure up to 48 attack helicopters, which will replace the AH-129D currently in service.

Last but not least, the Italian MoD is also working on a Next Generation Fast Helicopter (NGFH)/ Next Generation Rotorcraft (NGRC). Contacts have been established with the U.S. Army for the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program, with the Minister of Defense also visiting Bell’s facilities to see the V-280 Valor tilt-rotor and the B-360 Invictus reconnaissance helicopter.

About Stefano D’Urso
Stefano D’Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he’s also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.

Italian F-35Bs Perform Austere Runway Exercise In Sardinia

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Italian F-35Bs Perform Austere Runway Exercise In Sardinia
Some photos revealing the ascetic path drills at Alghero on Aug. 31, 2022.(All pictures: Alessandro Borsetti/ The Aviationist)Italian Air Force and also Navy F-35B STOVL(Short Take Off Vertical Landing )airplane accomplished a joint expeditionary drill at Alghero Airport. After carrying out numerous expeditionary workouts on the small island of Pantelleria where the regional landing strip has actually been made use of as an ahead running base for F-35Bs of the Aeronautica Militare(Italian Air Force), Marina Militare(Italian Navy)(as well as additionally the Royal Air Force)the Italian Defense has actually relocated Alghero, on the northwestern coastline of Sardinia, to accomplish the current ALARP(Air Landed Aircraft Refuelling Point)drill. On Aug. 31, 2022, an F-35B of the and also one of the Marina Militare released to the Sardinian flight terminal, where an ascetic path (primarily indicating a brief path situated in a semi-permissive atmosphere with restricted ground assistance offered )was substitute, lugged out a hot-pit refueling with a KC-130J of the 46 ^ Brigata Aerea (Air Brigade )from Pisa, and also took off once again to take component in a goal inside PISQ(Poligono Interforze Salto di Quirra– Salto di Quirra Joint Range), a big EW variety situated over central-east Sardinia, that additionally entailed 2 F-35As as well as 2 Eurofighters. Aeroporto di #Alghero, Sardegna Addestramento congiunto Alarp (Air Landed Aircraft Refuelling Point)di #AeronauticaMilitare e #MarinaMilitare con 2 #F 35B appartenenti alle 2 #ForzeArmate Un’ulteriore occasione per accrescere l’interoperabilità interforze #UnaForzaperilPaese pic.twitter.com/tVb3ejpStp– Forze Armate StatoMaggioreDifesa(@SM_Difesa)August 31, 2022 There&are lots of reasons the Algherooccasion deserved of statement. The KC-130J and also both F-35Bs on the ground at Alghero. Of all, as currently claimed, it was the very first time the tasks were carried out at Alghero, a flight terminal generally utilized for industrial trips just. Second, it reveals that the”marital relationship”in between the Italian Air Force and also Navy is still quite strong, after the stress of the past: after the very first touchdown of an Italian Air Force F-35B on the Italian Navy warship Cavour in November 2021 both solutions have actually currently run with each other in a previous joint ascetic path workout on Pantelleria previously this year. Third, it reveals the Italian Air Force is wagering large on expeditionary procedures, as likewise verified by the brief release of both F-35Bs the solution has actually currently gotten(out of an overall of 15), to Keflavik, Iceland, throughout the F-35A turning on behalf of NATO’s Icelandic Air Policing, in June this year. The ItAF F-35B throughout the hotpit refueling. The Italian Air Force takes into consideration”the F-35B and also its””STOVL capacity an important part of a bigger”expeditionary system that”makes the solution qualified to job power much from house, in a”semi-permissive setting”,”on an austere/bare paths usually”not useful by various other standard airplane as well as with restricted Force Protection offered by the host country.”In Africa there have to do with 100 paths that have a size in between 2,800

and also 3,000 meters yet there are 20 times as lots of paths in between 1,000 as well as 1,500 meters in size,”Gen. Alberto Rosso, previous Chief of Staff informed in 2020, when attending to the media at Pantelleria throughout the F-35B’s Expeditionary Proof of Concept.”Being able to make use of brief paths enables you to increase your capacity to release where required, in an easier and also quicker way, particularly closer to the location of procedure. Having an airplane that can removing from much shorter paths permits amazing versatility also in those situations that are presently just hardly possible. In situation of problem, airplane that have the ability to run from much shorter paths can likewise be distributed to boost their survivability.”While there will not be a Lightning Force(i.e. a joint Squadron outfitted with F-35Bs collectively flown as well as preserved from both solutions– as performed in the UK by the RAF as well as Royal Navy), the Italians focus on a”joint capacity”with the Italian Air Force and also Navy running their very own airplane in their very own systems at their corresponding homebases(Amendola for the Air Force and also Grottaglie for the Navy). When required, the F-35Bs of both solutions will certainly run as well as incorporate under a solitary chain of command from land-bases or from an airplane provider or touchdown helicopter dock(like the LHD Trieste that will certainly be prepared to fit the airplane following year)by ways of a TOA(Transfer Of Authority ). The Italian Navy F-35B is refueled utilizing the ALARP system. If the existing strategies are verified, the Aeronautica Militare as well as Marina Militare will certainly run 15 F-35Bs each: while the Air Force will certainly make use of the Lightning II to field this brand-new tactical expeditionary ability as well as likewise change the AMX(quickly to be retired), the Navy will certainly utilize the F-35B “to change the AV-8B+Harrier II(whose retired life”is prepared for 2024-2025– back then the marine solution ought to”be outfitted with at the very least 8 F-35Bs). About David Cenciotti David Cenciotti is a reporter based in Rome, Italy.

He is the Founder and also Editor of”The Aviationist”, among the globe’s most renowned and also review armed forces aeronautics blog sites. Because 1996, he has actually composed for significant around the world publications, consisting of Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and also lots of others, covering aeronautics, protection, battle, sector, criminal offense, knowledge as well as cyberwar. He has actually reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and also Syria, as well as flown a number of battle aircrafts with various flying force. He is a previous 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, an exclusive pilot as well as a grad in Computer Engineering. He has actually composed 5 publications and also added to much more ones.

Italian F-35s Will Get AIM-9X Block II Air-To-Air Missiles

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An Italian Air Force F-35A at Amendola Air Base. (Image credit: David Cenciotti)

The missiles will fill a capability gap caused by the IRIS-T not being integrated with the F-35.

The Naval Air Systems Command’s (NAVAIR) Air-to-Air Missiles Program Office (PMA-259) just announced that Italy became the 28th Air Intercept Missile (AIM)-9X International Partner on Dec. 17, 2021. The new air-to-air missile will equip the F-35 Lightning II fighter jets of both the Italian Air Force and Italian Navy, which until now had to count on the AIM-120C AMRAAM as their only air-to-air missile.

The Italian Embassy in Washington D.C. notified the Navy International Programs Office that the Italian Air Force accepted and signed the Letter of Offer & Acceptance (LOA) which was provided by the United States Government earlier last year. As mentioned in the press release, the letter was signed on November 19 and shortly after representatives from PMA-259 and Raytheon presented the AIM-9X Block II/II+ Classified Capabilities Briefing to Italian Headquarters Air Force Staff and F-35 Lightning II pilots.

NAVAIR did not provide info about the number of weapons and the economic amount of the deal, other than mentioning that the LOA consists of “a modest quantity” of AIM-9X Block II/II+ missiles to complement the Italian Air Force F-35 fleet. The missiles acquired by Italy will be part of the U. S. Navy’s Lot 23 Production Contract which will be awarded in 2023, with the delivery of the missiles scheduled for 2026.

The Italian Navy has been provided with a separate LOA for the AIM-9X that will equip its F-35Bs and is expected to accept it soon. As the ones for the Air Force, the missiles will be in the Block II/II+ variant part of Lot 23. While not specified, it is safe to assume that the delivery of the Navy’s missiles will be in 2026 too.

The AIM-9X Sidewinder is the latest of the Sidewinder family of short-range air-to-air missiles, featuring a high off-boresight focal-plane array seeker mounted on a highly maneuverable airframe with a greatly improved infrared counter-countermeasures. The AIM-9X incorporates many AIM-9LM legacy components (rocket motor, warhead and active optical target detector), but with performance far exceeding the legacy Sidewinder.

The AIM-9X Block II, which is part of this deal, is considered the most advanced short range air-air missile in the U.S. inventory, capable of using its datalink, thrust vectoring maneuverability, and advanced imaging infrared seeker to hit targets even behind the launching fighter thanks to the Lock-On-After-Launch capability. Unlike previous AIM-9 models, the AIM-9X Block II/II+ can even be used against targets on the ground.

Royal Netherlands Air Force’s F-35A in “Beast Mode”, with AIM-9Xs under the wingtips. (Photo: Frank Crebas)

Italy already operates two types of short-range air-to-air missiles: the AIM-9L (for Tornado, AMX and AV-8B+) and the IRIS-T (for the Eurofighter Typhoon).  However neither of those could be used with the 5th gen aircraft. This left the Italian F-35s with only one air-to-air weapon, the AIM-120, available for the Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) duty. As a sidenote, the Italian F-35s covered this role as part of the National Air Defense since 2018, shortly after becoming the first in Europe to declare the Initial Operational Capability (IOC).

Since 2019, the F-35s have also been involved in multiple NATO Air Policing missions, the last of which was the Enhanced Air Policing at Ämari Air Base in Estonia last summer. From Jan. 27, 2022 the ItAF is contributing to the NATO QRA with its Lightning II jets. Much like the Eurofighters, the F-35 in QRA will be under the control of the NATO Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) which, if needed, can launch a scramble to intercept and identify any suspect aircraft.

An Italian F-35 in Quick Reaction Alert. Notice the AIM-120 in weapon bay. (Photo: Italian Air Force)

Back to the AIM-9X, the signing of the LOA will allow Italy to equip its aircraft with both the AIM-120 in the internal weapon bays and the AIM-9X under the wingtips’ rails, like other international F-35 users. Italy is not the only user who had to resort to this solution, with a very similar situation happening also to Norway some years ago. Norway, like Italy, used the IRIS-T on its recently retired F-16s, however in 2015 a deal to acquire the AIM-9X was signed as the European missile was not available for the F-35.

The IRIS-T was initially scheduled for integration on the F-35, with Norway sponsoring an initial study preparatory for the works, but for unknown reason the integration did not go ahead. A future integration might still be on the table however, as Greece is another IRIS-T user that will receive F-35s. Moreover, Germany and Spain, two other IRIS-T users, are still reportedly interested in the acquisition of the F-35, taking the total to five nations possibly interested in the continuation of the integration of the IRIS-T on the 5th gen. aircraft.

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.

Italian Navy And Air Force’s F-35Bs Carry Out Joint Training On Pantelleria Island

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The Italian Navy and Air Force F-35Bs during the exercise at Pantelleria airport. (All images: Matteo Buono)

The F-35Bs of the two services continue to operate together as further integration looms.

After spending years “fighting” each other to get more F-35Bs, the “honeymoon” (as the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. Luca Goretti dubbed it) between the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) and the Marina Militare (Italian Navy) continues. On Jan. 27, 2022, a joint exercise involving the two F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) assets of both services took place on Pantelleria Island.

The exercise on the tiny island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea was aimed at increasing the integration between the Air Force and Navy’s fifth generation multirole aircraft while developing the expeditionary capacity from a land-base through the use of an “austere” airfield not suitable for flight operations of conventional take-off aircraft. The Chief of Defense Staff, Adm. Giuseppe Cavo Dragone, the Chief of Staff of the Navy, Adm. Enrico Credendino and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. Goretti attended the event.

We were invited to take part in the event and our contributor Matteo Buono flew to Pantelleria to take the photographs you can find in this article.

The Italian Navy F-35B.

“The goal is to achieve an expeditionary capacity both from land and from sea [aircraft carrier] by using the F-35B assets of the Navy and the Air Force in an integrated and synergistic manner, in compliance with the prerogatives of the Chiefs of the Armed Forces. There will be increasingly profitable synergies that will allow a unified use of the STOVL capacity: depending on the domain, the F-35Bs will be put under the operational control of one or the other service, always responding to the Joint Chief of Staff”, Adm. Cavo Dragone said.

Italy will not adopt the British model, meaning that there won’t be a Lightning Force with a joint Squadron equipped with F-35Bs jointly flown and maintained: the Italians aim at a “joint capability” with the Italian Air Force and Navy operating their own aircraft in their own units. However, when needed, the F-35Bs of both services will integrate and operate under a single chain of command from land-bases or from an aircraft carrier or landing helicopter dock (like the LHD Trieste that will be ready to accommodate the aircraft next year) by means of a TOA (Transfer Of Authority).

Overall, the Aeronautica Militare and Marina Militare will operate 15 F-35Bs each: the Air Force will use the Lightning II to replace the AMX (that is going to be retired this year), while the Navy will use the 5th generation aircraft to replace the AV-8B+ Harrier II (whose retirement is planned for 2024-2025, by the time the naval service will be equipped with at least 8 F-35Bs).

The next F-35B to be delivered to the Italian MOD will be assigned to the Italian Air Force that operates just one STOVL Lightning II at the moment.

The training event on Pantelleria last week follows the drills carried out in November 2021 that saw the first landing of an F-35B of the Italian Air Force on the Italian Navy aircraft carrier Cavour; the first integration aboard the carrier by the Italian Air Force and Navy’s F-35Bs; the first landing of the Italian F-35Bs aboard the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The Italian Navy F-35B prepares for take off after the hot pit refueling.

More in detail, the two F-35Bs landed at the “expeditionary” airfield, Pantelleria Airport, and carried out a “hot-pit” refueling taking gas from a KC-130J aircraft of the 46^ Brigata Aerea (Air Brigade) from Pisa, through the ALARP system (Air Landed Aircraft Refueling Point).

The KC-130J that refueled the F-35Bs through the ALARP system ALARP (Air Landed Aircraft Refueling Point) system.

After the ground refueling, the two F-35Bs took off again and joined two Italian Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon to conduct a COMAO, Composite Air Operation. The latter included Close Air Support (CAS) to the Surface Forces through ground JTAC (Joint Terminal Attack Controller) and aerial interdiction with strategic and tactical management carried out by the G550 CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning) aircraft of the 14° Stormo (Wing). The COMAO was supported by a KC-767A aircraft.

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 five books and contributed to many more ones.

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.

The 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”.

The 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.

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.

The 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).

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.

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.

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.

F-35B Italian Navy
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.”

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

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.

Libyan Coast Guard Shoots At Two Italian Fishing Boats: Italian Frigate And P-72A Surveillance Plane On The Scene

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A P-72A of the Italian Air Force (Image credit: Italian Air Force). In the right box the Libeccio frigate (Image credit: Italian Navy). In the left box: AIS situation off Libya (Image credit: MarineTraffic.com)

The Italian Navy and Air Force intervened in international waters off Libya after a Libyan Coast Guard patrol boat shot at Italian fishing boats.

Two Italian fishing boats were involved in an incident about 30 miles off Libya on May 6, 2021. Warning shots were fired at the Aliseo and Artemide fishing boats, in international waters, off Misrata by a Libyan Coast Guard patrol vessel: the commander of one of the two fishing boats was injured, the Italian media reported.

The Libeccio frigate of the Italian Navy (Marina Militare), supporting “Operazione Mare Sicuro” (Italian for “Safe Sea”) in the Mediterranean Sea was dispatched to assist the fishing boats. Operation “Mare Sicuro” was established in 2015, is a mission of the Italian Navy aimed at ensuring maritime security in the Central Mediterranean Sea – an area of major national interest – launched following the worsening of the Libyan crisis in order to provide presence, surveillance and maritime security, and to ensure freedom of navigation, according to national legislation and international agreements in force.

According to the Italian Navy, the Libeccio frigate was instructed to assist a group of three fishing boats (Artemide, Aliseo and Nuovo Cosimo) which were conducting fishing activities in the waters of Tripolitania,  within the “high risk” zone defined by the Interministerial Coordination Committee for Safety of Transport and Infrastructure  located 35 nautical miles from the Libyan coast, north of the city of Al Khums.

The intervention of the Italian Navy warship was requested due to the presence of a Libyan Coast Guard patrol boat rapidly approaching the Italian fishing boats.

Nave Libeccio, which at the time of the report was about 60 miles from the scene, headed towards the fishing boats at maximum speed and sent the helicopter, which reached the area and made radio contact with the patrol boat personnel.

The Libeccio frigate, which arrived in the vicinity of the fishing boats, received news of the presence of a seaman aboard Aliseo who was wounded in the arm.

Currently the fishing boats Artemide and Nuovo Cosimo are safely sailing northbound towards Mazara del Vallo harbour. The Libeccio frigate remained in support of the Aliseo fishing boat as the commander had been transhipped by Libyan personnel on board the patrol boat for medical checks and later released. The Aliseo fishing boat is currently free.

The P-72A

To verify the situation, a P-72A MPA (Maritime Patrol Aircraft) was also dispatched to the area: the aircraft observed some warning shots from the Libyan patrol boat.

The aircraft, that operates a mixed Air Force/Navy crew, belongs to the 41° Stormo (Wing) an Italian Air Force unit based at Sigonella Air Base, in Sicily. The P-72A is a military variant of the ATR 72-600. The Italian Air Force has received four P-72s that the service has used to replace the Breguet BR1150 Atlantic.

The P-72A can undertake a variety of roles ranging from maritime patrol for the search and identification of surface vessels, SAR (search and rescue) missions, the prevention of narcotics trafficking, piracy, smuggling, territorial water security and monitoring and intervention in the event of environmental catastrophes. The P-72A is equipped with a communication suite that enables the aircraft to transmit or receive information in real-time to/from command and control centres either on the ground, in the air or at-sea, to ensure coordinated and effective operations. The aircraft is also equipped with a self-protection system. The aircraft is said to be able to fly missions lasting six and a half hours at ranges up to 200 nautical miles from its starting location.

P-72A Libya
The Atlantic and the P-72 flew alongside during the very last flight of the Atlantic, from Sigonella to Pratica di Mare on Nov. 22, 2017. (Image credit: Italian Air Force)

Previous incidents

The firing of warning shots at the Italian fishing boats is just the latest in a series of incidents in the troubled waters located within the ZPP (Zona Protezione Pesca – Fishing Protection Zone) unilaterally declared by Libya in 2005 with the intention of exercising sovereign rights over fishing resources.

Last year, the Antartide and Medinea fishing boats, were seized with eighteen seafarers on board and remained in Libya for 108 days before being able to return home on Dec. 20, 2020.

A few days ago, in the same area, the Italian Navy FREEM frigate Alpino was dispatched to protect a group of 7 fishing boats threatened by a rubber dinghy, coming from Cirenaica. The attempted seizure was averted by the timely intervention of the Alpino warship.

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.

U.S. Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey Conducts Qualifications Flights Aboard Italian Aircraft Carrier Cavour

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USMC MV-22B Osprey pilots conduct night deck landing qualifications aboard the Italian Navy aircraft carrier Cavour, off the Maryland coast. (Image credit: USMC)

After completing the Sea Trials with the U.S. Marine Corps F-35B, the aircraft carrier Cavour conducted training with a USMC MV-22B Osprey.

As already reported, the Italian Navy has recently declared the successful completion of the “sea trials” for the operational use of the F-35B, the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter that will replace the service’s AV-8B+ Harrier II jet.

The “Ready for Operation” campaign included various compatibility tests carried out with 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), Maryland. The “sea trials” lasted four weeks and ended on Mar. 26, 2021, with the return of the carrier to Norfolk.

Interestingly, the Italian Navy’s flagship was also involved in take-off and landing training with a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.

The purpose of the activity was to verify the compatibility of the flight deck with the American tactical transport aircraft.

Back in 2015, Boeing considered the Italian Navy among the possible export customers for their V-22 platform, considered its ability to carry the F-35’s Pratt & Whitney F135 turbofan in its cargo bay (a capability required to support blue waters engine replacement) and to operate from the flight deck of the current and future aircraft carriers, including the new LHD Trieste.

While the interest in the Osprey has probably cooled now, the interoperability between the platform and the Italian Navy’s flagship is needed to “increase interoperability between the USMC and the Italian Navy, and increase the operational reach of Naval forces for crisis or contingency response or in the event of conflict.”

Moreover, Italy has shown interest in the U.S. Future Vertical Lift helicopter initiative, that sees the Bell V-280 Valor tilt-rotor aircraft, developed by Bell and Lockheed Martin, among the contenders. Tilt-rotor designs are also being developed as part of the unmanned V-247 Vigilant tiltrotor concept for the US Marine Corps (USMC) and might be considered for the US Navy’s (USN’s) Future Vertical Lift (FVL) Maritime Strike programme: this means that interoperability tests with tilt-rotors make perfect sense for the Italian Navy and ITS Cavour to prepare the future at-sea operations.

Interoperability tests aboard ITS Cavour. (Image credit: Italian Navy)

After completing the “Sea Trials”, the ITS Cavour will carry out carrier qualification of the six Italian Naval Aviators that completed their transition on the F-35B at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort, South Carolina, and then head back to Italy, where the Italian Navy is planning to perform the first flight activities with an Italian F-35B from the Cavour. The aircraft that should be used will be the fourth F-35B built in Italy and the third to be delivered to the Navy. As we mentioned in previous articles, the first two aircraft built went to the Navy and are now in Beaufort for pilot training, while the third one was delivered to the Air Force. Italy has plans to procure a total of 90 F-35s for the Italian Air Force and Navy: 60 F-35As and 30 F-35Bs (15 for the Marina Militare and 15 for the Aeronautica Militare).

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 Navy Officer Arrested Over Alleged Spying For Russia. Two Russian Diplomats Expelled From Italy

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Russian Embassy in Rome. (Image credit: TASS)

An Italy Navy officer caught passing classified documents to Russian diplomats for money during clandestine meeting in Rome. It’s the most serious spying episode since the end of Cold War.

An Italian Navy officer, Capitano di Fregata (Captain of Frigate – Italian Navy rank equivalent to Lt. Col.) Walter Biot, working at Italy’s Stato Maggiore Difesa (Defense Staff) in Rome, was arrested in an alleged spying episode: according to the Italian authorities, he was caught passing documents to a military official accredited at the Russian Embassy in Rome.

Police intervened after the Italian officer had transferred a pen drive to the Russian military, in exchange for a sum money, during a “clandestine meeting” in Rome, held on the night on Tuesday Mar. 30, 2021. Italian media have reported that the sum the Italian Navy officer was paid was 5,000 Euro.

As a consequence of the spy scandal, Italy ordered the expulsion of two Russian diplomats: the military official involved in the meeting (that was initially detained) and another one involved in the affair, whose role has not been clarified yet. Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said in a statement on Facebook that Italy had lodged a formal protest with the Russian ambassador and notified him of “the immediate expulsion of the two Russian officials involved in this very serious affair.”

No other detail about the kind of documents the Italian officer passed to the Russians has been released, however, later on Wednesday, some more details about Captain Walter Biot have been unveiled by the Corriere della Sera newspaper. According to the Italian media outlet, he had the role of assigning a security level to the documents of the Defense Staff. All confidential and classified documents passed through his office, including those from NATO. To Russia, Biot could therefore have sold papers on planning international missions, including crisis support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some analysts said that the documents the Italian officer was trying to give the Russians were not so important considered the relatively small sum of money (5,000 Euro = 5,860 USD) paid for them; however, it is unclear how the money were transferred and the sum might have been low so that it could be more easily hidden.

While we don’t really know what documents the Russians were looking for, the episode is quite remarkable as it proves Moscow is still quite active in NATO countries, including Italy, that is one of those nations with the best diplomatic ties with Russia and where most of people and some political forces do not see Russia as an “enemy”. Maybe this “friendly” scenario even favored the spy affair.. Whatever, it’s clear that we are living a new Cold War, with Russia actively spying on Italy and other NATO nations; a “Cold War 2.0” that along with “traditional” spies, HUMINT (Human Intelligence), is also waged in the air, with flights of bombers, fighters and spyplanes along the borders of NATO airspace as we reported yesterday.

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.