Two Italian Air Force F-35 Lightning IIs, assigned to the 32nd Wing, Amendola Air Base, Italy, landed at Aviano Air Base in support of Exercise Astral Knight 2021.
On May 20-21, 2021, for the first time ever, two Italian Air Force (ITAF) F-35 Lightning IIs, assigned to the 32nd Wing, Amendola Air Base, Italy, landed at Aviano Air Base (AB), Italy, in support of Exercise Astral Knight 2021.
As explained by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder, 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs, in the article Italian F-35s train at Aviano, strengthening partnerships, AK21 is an integrated air and missile defense exercise focused on defending key terrain, involving service members from Albania, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Slovenia and the US.
This year ITAF F-35 pilots, who also participated in Astral Knight 2019, played the role of “allies” during AK21.
“I was flying in AK19 with the [ITAF] squadron and [US F-35s] with my former students over the Adriatic Sea,” said ‘Decker,’ ITAF 13th Squadron commander. “I felt at home in a perfect comfort zone, sharing plans is a strength for conducting operations.”
While at Aviano, eleven F-35 crew chiefs from Hill, Eglin, Eielson and Luke Air Force Bases performed cross-service actions on the ITAF F-35s.
“We started off with hot-pit refueling and interoperation servicing (IOS),” US Air Force Staff Sgt. Drace Bertrand, 62nd Aircraft Maintenance Unit F-35 crew chief. “We had ITAF members here with us, just in case anything went wrong. We then sent the jet up to perform another mission after the IOS.”
Hot-pit refueling allows aircrew to land and keep their engines running while they refuel, before taking off to continue the next leg of their respective missions.
The experience gained during AK21 prepares allies and partners for potential operations in support of NATO and other multinational contingencies around the globe.
“The current program of record shows European nations’ F-35 inventories outnumbering US F-35s based in Europe by almost 10 to one,” said Chief Master Sgt. Derek Conrad, Headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa 5th-generation integration team maintenance and logistics liaison. “European nations would have 10 times as many F-35s as the U.S. does in Europe. That’s why we’re taking great steps now to learn how to interoperate with partners. That’s what this is all about.”
Decker, one of the first two ITAF instructor pilots who trained on the F-35 in 2016, spoke on the F-35’s capability for interoperability with older aircraft such as F-16 Fighting Falcons during AK21.
“The Italian air force is strongly focused on the integration activity between 4th and 5th-generation aircraft, with a particular focus on the ways in which systems, including the fundamental chain of command and control, are able to interact, communicate, integrate and help each other,” he said.
Besides Amendola, the ItAF F-35 fleet will be based at Ghedi AB home of the 6th Wing that is currently operating the Tornado fighter bomber. The Italian Navy F-35s instead will be embarked on Cavour aircraft carrier.
Moreover Cameri Multifunctional Hub provides:
- The Final Assembly and Check-Out facility (FACO) that produces and delivers F-35A and B model aircraft to Italy and the Netherlands and is equipped to accept other international customers
- The Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul, and Upgrade facility (MROU) that provides depot activities to Italian aircraft and multinational capability
- The Wing Assembly facility produces F-35 A and B model wings to support the Cameri and Fort Worth FACOs
Photo credit: Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder / U.S. Air Force