Italian Tornados relocation (and possible deployment to Afghanistan)
In these days, two movements seems to interest the Italian Tornado fleet. The first one was announced many months ago and it is part of a project of rationalization of the ItAF resources, a plan that foresees to concentrate homogeneous fleets on the same bases. It deals with the movement of the 156 Gruppo aircraft, currently located in Gioia del Colle and belonging to the 36 Stormo, to Ghedi. The Tonkas wearing the Lynx badge will join the 154 Gruppo and 102 OCU of the 6 Stormo, thus creating a Tornado IDS MOB (Main Operating Base). Piacenza will remain the only other base hosting the Tonka, even if the type of aircraft equipping the 50 Stormo’s 155 Gruppo is the ECR version, used for SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense) mission. By next July, all the 156 Gr aircraft and crews will return to Ghedi 42 years after they moved in the opposite direction in 1966, when the Squadron left the 6 Aerobrigata to be annexed to the 36 Stormo.
The other possible relocation was hypothesised by the Italian MOD Ignazio La Russa during the NATO Council meeting in Bruxelles on June 13. Even if nothing has been decided yet, the Ministry explained that the deployment of the Tornado could be evaluated if demanded by the other allies to relieve the 6 German Tornados used for reconnaissance in Southern Afghanistan. The GAF planes have been operating under NATO command from Apr 9 from Mazar-e-Sharif, a forward base in Northern Afghanistan. The aircraft are used for “recce” missions and equipped with high-tech cameras and provide hi-rez images providing additional security for both the ISAF troops and civilian population. This would be the same task of the Italian Tornados.
The 154 Gruppo has recently received its new Reccelite pod and has performed the first reconnaissance mission with the new equipment on Mar 13. The Rafael Reccelite is a Day/Night electro-optical pod able to provide real-time imagery collection. It is made of a stabilized turret, Solid-state on board recorder that provides image collections in all directions, from high, medium and low altitudes and can transmit to a ground station the collected data in real-time via data-link. The Reccelite was integrated with the Tornado with the cooperation of the Alenia Aeronautica and the Reparto Sperimentale Volo, at Pratica di Mare and can be used to provide imagery of suspected Taliban positions in Afghanistan.
Since reconnaissance is one of the duties of the 154 Gruppo, which flew recce missions also on the Balkans and in case of national calamities, this Squadron is most probably the one destined to operate in Afghanistan should the need arise. In 2006, the possible deployment of the 51 Stormo AMX Ghiblis to Afghanistan was speculated; Ministry La Russa clearly explained that the only option under evaluation these days doesn’t foresee the involvement of Ghibli.
When in Sep. 2004 I visited Gioia del Colle, the last Tornado F3s of the 12 Gruppo were flying the last missions as the Squadron was receiving its first MB.339CDs. The 12 Gr is currently flying the F-2000 Typhoon.
Top image credit: Italian Air Force