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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)

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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)

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)

” data-medium-file=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/dissecting-the-italian-defense-planning-document-for-2022-2024-8.jpg” data-large-file=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/dissecting-the-italian-defense-planning-document-for-2022-2024-2.jpg” loading=”lazy” class=”size-large wp-image-80769″ src=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/dissecting-the-italian-defense-planning-document-for-2022-2024-2.jpg” alt width=”706″ height=”397″ srcset=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/dissecting-the-italian-defense-planning-document-for-2022-2024-2.jpg 706w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/dissecting-the-italian-defense-planning-document-for-2022-2024-8.jpg 460w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/dissecting-the-italian-defense-planning-document-for-2022-2024-9.jpg 128w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/dissecting-the-italian-defense-planning-document-for-2022-2024-10.jpg 768w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/dissecting-the-italian-defense-planning-document-for-2022-2024-11.jpg 678w, https://theaviationist.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Italy_Defence_Planning_2022_3.jpg 1024w” sizes=”(max-width: 706px) 100vw, 706px”>

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.

Italy Increasing Tempest Funding And Planning New Support Aircraft Acquisitions

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The mockup of the Tempest 6th generation fighter aircraft. (Photo: BAE Systems)

The Italian Air Force will get new tankers, SIGINT, and CAEW assets while also continuing the development of special C-27J variants, as disclosed in the new multi-year defense planning document.

The Italian government published the new multiyear defense planning document (Documento Programmatico Pluriennale della Difesa) for 2021-2023, 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 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 Defence is focused on maintaining a balanced military power, while also renovating and potentiating it with new capabilities. Important novelties are the space and cyber domains, which are set to provide new space for innovation in the informational and decisional sectors.

The first major program mentioned in the document is 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 on the Italian and British participation in 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 planning sees a new investment of 2 billion euros by the Italian government over the next 15 years, financing the research and development activities. The document mentions a total of 6B Euro for the completion of the research and development. This Italian investment follows the disclosure of a £250 million contract by the United Kingdom to formally begin the Concept and Assessment Phase, as part of a bigger £2 billion investment over the next four years.

This next phase of the Tempest program will see investment in both digital and physical infrastructure on which the system will be developed, giving priority to the digital aspect as simulated design and testing can significantly reduce costs, time and emissions. The industry partners of Team Tempest will develop this way a range of digital concepts, embedding new tools and techniques to design, evaluate, and shape the final design and capability requirements of Tempest.

Last year, the UK, Italy, and Sweden signed a Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate on the project, transforming the British FCAS project into a major international endeavor. Together, 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 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.

The EC-27J JEDI flying over Iraq. (Photo: Italian Air Force)

The next program mentioned in the multiyear defense planning document is the continuation of the development of the dedicated Special Operations variant of the C-27J Spartan, called MC-27J Praetorian. A total fleet of three aircraft is planned to serve with the Italian Air Force. A total investment of € 99 million is estimated, with the first tranche over the next five years, worth 80 million, currently being approved.

The MC-27J development was first started in 2013, with the Italian Air Force envisioning palletized support and fire systems that would be used to convert three C-27Js already in service. The fire support configuration sees the aircraft equipped with a side-firing GAU-23 30 mm gun, the same used by the USAF AC-130J, mission systems, and C3ISR equipment. The aircraft will provide support for the Special Forces of the Commando Operativo Forze Speciali (COFS) and was already tested during Special Operations exercises.

The defense planning provides funds also for the other special variant of the Spartan, the EC-27J JEDI (Jamming and Electronic Defense Instrumentation). The first tranche of 27 million euros, out of a total required investment of 29 million euros, is being distributed over the next four years for the Risk Reduction Phase 2, focused on the development of the final configuration of the JEDI Electronic Warfare system and the serialization of the fleet.

The JEDI differs from the baseline Spartan because it has been extensively modified to perform Electronic Warfare missions: along with a characteristic antenna on the tail, the EC-27J carry an internal JEDI system that is used to create an “umbrella” of electronic emissions that protect personnel on the ground from IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). To be more precise, the program description mentions that the JEDI can perform convoy escort missions to increase the protection against radio-controlled IEDs.

The JEDI system has been completely designed by the ReSTOGE (Reparto Supporto Tecnico Operativo Guerra Elettronica – Electronic Warfare Technical Support Department), based at Pratica di Mare airbase. This unit is responsible for compiling, updating, and managing the EW (Electronic Warfare) and self-protection libraries of all the Italian Air Force aircraft. The JEDI package can be installed on standard NATO pallets so as to quickly reconfigure the capability by means of a “roll-on and roll-off” procedure.

Two airframes are believed to have been converted to the EC-27J variant (or YEC-27J in accordance with Italy’s MOD Mission Design Series), with the type reaching earlier this year the 5,000 flight hours mark since Aug. 10, 2016, when it was first deployed to Iraq for “Prima Parthica” (as the Italian Armed Forces contingent supporting Operation Inherent Resolve is dubbed at the 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.

Another priority program for the Italian Defence is the new multi-mission/multi-sensor aircraft, also known as JAMMS (Joint Airborne Multi-sensor Multi-mission System). This program, which was already mentioned in the Defense Policy Document last year, envisions a “multi-mission Gulfstream G550-based system with modern sensors for strategic intelligence and electronic superiority, able to integrate into a C4ISTAR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance) architecture for real-time information sharing and to operate both in autonomous and joint environments, with future provisions for Multi-Domain Command and Control and Electronic Protection”.

A total investment of 1,223.1 million Euro is being financed for this program which, as we already reported, should cover the acquisition of the first two Full Mission Capable (FMC) aircraft and six “green” airframes that can be converted at a later stage to either JAMMS or CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning) configurations, together with logistic and infrastructural support. According to the available info,  the new Gulfstream, whose designation is still unknown (supposedly E-550B or R-550), might be similar to the MC-55A Peregrine that the Royal Australian Air Force is purchasing for SIGINT (Signal Intelligence). Both aircraft also have L3Harris as prime contractors.

In continuity with the JAMMS program, the defense planning financed with 925 million Euro over 12 years the implementation of the CAEW system on a part of the “green” airframes mentioned before. The description further mentions that the two variants will be defined as CAEW and Electronic Combat, with the former providing Airborne Early Warning and Battlefield Management and Communication as Command and Control (C2) multiplier, and the latter focused on the inhibition of enemy C2 capabilities and the use Electronic Support Measures (ESM) to support friendly forces.

An interesting mention goes to the joint Future Fast Rotorcraft program, which has the objective of studying new helicopter technologies for the development of a Next-Generation Fast Helicopter. More precisely, the planning document mentions the beginning of the second phase next year, looking for synergies with international programs. As already reported, Italy is one of the countries interested in the US Future Vertical Lift program, with Leonardo reportedly in talks with Lockheed Martin, which is looking for a European partner to handle European sales and share risk costs.

Another interesting mention goes to Loitering Ammunitions, which are getting a 3.88 million Euro investment over the next five years. This should be the first time that this new capability is being discussed for acquisition by the Italian military. The loitering ammunition, which in the photo are represented by the Hero-30 developed by Israeli UAV manufacturer Uvision, will provide surveillance, reconnaissance, and engagement capabilities to augment the protection of the forces deployed abroad. The program also mentions a focus on the reduction of the risks of collateral damage.

A rendering of the European MALE RPAS. (Photo: Leonardo)

The next program that we are going to talk about is quite unexpected. Among the measures to preserve the national Air-to-Air Refueling capability, the Italian Air Force is acquiring two new KC-767 tankers in their latest version and to upgrade the aircraft already in service to the equivalent U.S. Air Force standard. While not explicitly stated, this should mean that the Italian Air Force will become the next operator of the KC-46 Pegasus tanker, although it is not known if the Italian tankers will assume the new designation or retain the older KC-767 one, maybe as KC-767B to differentiate from the original KC-767A currently in service.

With this program, Italy will join Israel and Japan as export operators of the KC-46 Pegasus, with the latter also operating the KC-767A. The Italian government will invest 1,410 million euros in the program, even if the total funds needed are still being defined. Following the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw extensive use of the KC-767 to evacuate Italian citizens, the tanker program also includes new StratEvac (Strategic Evacuation) kits to safely transport patients who need intensive care.

The defense planning includes once again the European MALE (Medium Altitude Long Endurance) RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System) being developed by Leonardo, Airbus and Dassault. The program will fund the development, acquisition, and logistical support of the aircraft as part of a European consortium focused on the incrementation of the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance capabilities. The drone will feature an open architecture with modular systems, easily upgradable and capable of safely flying in non-segregated airspace with other traffic.

Among its missions, the RPAS will provide Defence and Homeland Security, intelligence support, prevention and contrast of illicit activities, the contrast of illegal exploitation of migrants, the contrast of illicit overseas traffic, and control of the national soil for the prevention of natural calamities. 1,872.72 million euros are being funded for the European MALE RPAS, which is deemed strategic for the national industry and thus funded also by the Ministry for Economical Development.

Another program related to RPAS assets is the one regarding the MQ-9 payload. This program is funding 59 million euros, out of a total of 168 million, for the upgrade of sensors, payload, and command and control systems to the latest standard. Considering the presence of the generic mention of payload and the image of an armed U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper, some analysts pointed to a possible weapon integration on the Italian MQ-9 fleet, a topic that has been in the talks for years. A quite generic description accompanies the investment, leaving the program’s goal open to interpretation: “The aircraft will provide incremented security levels and protection during convoy escort missions, making available [for ground troops] a flexible defense capability from the air. Moreover, [the aircraft] will introduce a new option for protection of ground troops and air assets during high-intensity operations.”


Stefano D’Urso is a contributor for The Aviationist 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The KC-767A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Petrol 42”

Pratica di Mare AB, Apr. 1, 2021.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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