Shindand (or Shindad), in Western Afghanistan, will be the future Afghan Air Force (AAF) main training facility. Today it is the base used by the young and quite small Afghan Air Force to train its pilots and airport personnel with the help of NATO.
Over there, some 50 miles to the south of Herat, another important airbase in the region which hosts the Italian Predator UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) and the AMXs of the Black Cats, a team of Italian Air Force advisors, operating within the 838th AEAG (Air Expeditionary Advisory Group) of the USAF, has been conducting training activities such as the organization and implementation of courses related to flight operations, infrastructure, communications and Information Systems, Transport, Materials Management, Fire Emergency Procedures, POL (Petroleum Oil Lubricants), Health, Canteen and Housing, and base Security. In other words, the Italian Air Force is helping the AAF to organize its local Wing and to let it manage its airfield.
As said, the Italian advisors operates within the 838th AEAG, that belongs to the NATC-A (Nato Air Training Command –Afghanistan), one of the three command units depending from the NTM-A (Nato Training Mission Afghanistan).
The Italian Air Force Airbase Support Air Advisory Team (ASAAT) program at Shindand started on Nov. 2, 2010, and it is currently made of 29 officers and NCOs. Among them, 3 pilots and two crew chiefs/flight engineers work as mentors and advisers for the AAF and cooperate with a total of 8 Hungarian pilots and crew members for the Mi 17 helicopter program.
Shindand airport is the base of a small fleet of AAF aircraft: along with the above mentioned Mi-17s, some Cessna 208 Caravan and Cessna C-182T in an overall grey colour scheme. It will not only be the main training facility, but it is also destined to host an air interdiction squadron and also a Special Forces support unit.
Based at Kabul International Airport 14 of 20 C-27A Spartans destined to the AAF, former G-222s retired by the Italian Air Force and refurbished within a $287 milion contract awarded by the US Air Force to Alenia North America in 2008, to phase out the obsolete Antonov An-26 and An-32 and provide the AAF a new tactical transport plane capable to carry up to 20,000 pounds of cargo and fuel and operate from unprepared airstrips, unreachable by other fixed wing aircraft.
The AAF is also equipped with few operational Mi-35 attack helicopter and 2 or 3 L-39 training jets. Both types should be replaced in the near future.
On May 14, 2009, Alenia Aermacchi M-346 “Master” made its first three ship formation flight. The 1 hours flight was performed by the two prototypes and LRIP00, representative of the series production configuration. Pictures of the event were taken by the M-311 aircraft that acted as camera ship in an air-to-air photo session. Alenia Aermacchi is proceeding with the last M-346 development activities and is fitting out the new hangar dedicated to the automated build-up and structural assembly lines for series production at a rate of 18-24 aircraft annually, which can be increased in case of specific needs. Thanks to the extremely advanced and automated industrialization process, Alenia Aermacchi will be able to address effectively the market demand for trainers aimed at pilots of 4th and 5th generation combat aircraft. Presently the M-346 “Master” has been chosen for a total of more than 60 aircraft and there are going to be other commercial opportunities through the participation to important international bids.
On May 19, 2009, Alenia Aeronautica announced the last important achievement of its C-27J Spartan, the best selling tactical transport aircraft worldwide: the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) has reached 5.000 flight hours on the aircraft. In order to celebrate the event the aircraft MM62225 “46-90” was painted with 5.000 special markings. Since Jan. 11 2007, when the first aircraft was taken on charge by the 46^ Brigata Aerea at Pisa, 11 of the 12 C-27Js ordered by the ItAF have been delivered to replace the G.222s. The aircraft is quite different from its predecessors (the G.222 and the US version dubbed C-27A) since it is equipped with highly improved avionics, self-protection suite, two HUD (Head-Up Displays) and refueling probe. During the first two years of service, 15 crews have been qualified on the aircraft. In the near future the training and qualification capabilities of the 46^ Brigata will be enhanced with the advanced training system that will include a full-motion flight simulator similar to that of the C-130J that has been operating at Pisa since 2004.
The following artworks (G.222, C-27A, C-27J) are a courtesy of Ugo Crisponi of Aviation Graphic
The following background information were provided by Alenia in a press release: A total of 121 C-27J aircraft have been ordered by the air forces of Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Romania, Morocco, U.S. Army and Air Force, and has also been selected by the Slovakian Air Force. The C-27J is a twin-engine turboprop tactical transport aircraft with state-of-the-art technology, avionics, propulsion and systems; it demonstrates superior performance over its competitors in all weather conditions, cost effectiveness, extreme operating flexibility and it is the only aircraft of its class offering interoperability with heavier airlifters. The C-27J is capable of performing many missions such as transport of troops, goods and medicines; logistical re-supply; MEDEVAC airdrop operations; paratroopers’ launches, humanitarian assistance and missions in support of homeland security. The C-27J is equipped with advanced avionics and engines (two Rolls Royce AE2100-D2, which guarantee 4,650 SHP power); and, thanks to a loading system perfectly compatible with that of the C-130 family aircraft, the C-27J Spartan can carry pallets weighing up to 4,700 Kg at altitudes up to 2,20 metres. The design of the avionics system is totally redundant to increase mission security and reliability, permits the aircraft to operate in any weather condition and in any operational scenario. The excellent design and performance of these systems result in a low workload for the pilots. The C-27J is able to take-off from and land on unprepared strips of less than 500 metres, with a maximum take-off weight of 30,500 kg; the aircraft can transport up to 60 equipped soldiers or up to 46 paratroopers; and, in the air-ambulance configuration, the C-27J is also able to transport 36 stretchers and six medical attendants. The big cargo cross section (2,60 metres in height and 3,33 metres in width) together with the high floor strength (cargo capacity of 4,900 Kg/m), allow the transport of intact heavy military equipment of large dimensions. The C-27J can, for example, carry the engines of both combat and transport aircraft like the C-130, Eurofighter, the F-16 and the Mirage 2000 directly on their respective engine dollies without any additional support. The C-27J is designed, developed and tested as a true military aircraft following military standards to ensure the robustness, dependability, and performance of the aircraft. The C-27J has obtained both the Military Qualification Certificate as well as certification from the Civil Aviation Authority certifying that it is airworthy according to civil standards.
I had just finished to write an article dealing with the AC-27J Gunship Lite program, when I received a news article about the approval, granted by the Pentagon, for the purchase of 16 AC-27J aircraft equipped with either a 30 mm or 40 mm gun by the AFSOC (Air Force Special Operations Command). The aircraft, that should was (officially) designated AC-27 Stinger II (nickname inherited by the AC-119K Stinger that was employed in the Vietnam to shot ground targets along the Ho Chi Minh Trail that replaced the AC-47 Spooky), will be able to use stand off munitions and PGM (Precision Guided Munitions) as the GBU-44/B Viper Strike bomb, a GPS-aided laser guided weapon. The purchase of 16 AC-27J by the AFSOC is not the only important news about the “Spartan”. The name of the “undisclosed” country that along with the Bulgarian, Hellenic, Italian, Lithuanian, Romanian Air Forces and US.Armed Forces has ordered 4 C-27Js was finally unveiled today. Bringing the total to 121 aircraft sold so far, Morocco, the first country outside NATO theatry will use the Italian aircraft in airlift missions. As everybody knows, the C-27 is a derivative of the Alenia G.222 a medium-sized transport aircraft that in various versions served with the Aeronautica Militare and that was also sold to the USAF as C-27A. Despite celebrating an official ceremony to celebrate its ceremony, the Italian Air Force has not completely retired the G.222 yet, since at least two aircraft are still flying with the 14° Stormo, based in Pratica di Mare. One of the them is the G.222VS (Versione Special), the only Italian SIGINT aircraft; the other is used for training purposes and to keep crew’s currencies and qualifications. As part of the contract for the new C-27Js, the other G.222s that were retired by the ItAF were returned to Alenia and they have been offered abroad. Some airframes (30) were cannibalized for spares while other were given to Lagos and Nigeria, while 18 aircraft among the airframes in flight conditions (22 in 2007) will be delivered to Afghanistan. As part of a $287 million contract signed at Robins AFB at the end of Sept., 16 aircraft, refurbished and 2 will be converted in VIP configuration will be delivered to the Afghanistan Goverment between Sept. 2009 and year 2011. The G.222/C-27A will replace the ageing 5 AN-32 aircraft. The aircraft has STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) capabilities that are suited for tactical airlift missions and MEDEVAC (Medical Evacuation) sorties on short landing strips. A kind of mission that the G.222 outstandingly performed during INTERFET mission in E Timor as I explained in the following article published in September 2000 issue of Air Forces Monthly.
“Saving East Timor – the Italian assistance”
Introduction One of the most known Italian shortcomings is to react to the international crisis, requiring decisive and quick decisions, with the slackness caused by the often critical internal situation. In the past, Italian intervention in peace-keeping operations, was delayed by political struggle between majority supporting the Government and the opposition. This is somehow difficult to understand because, as showed in Allied Force, this country owns today experienced crews and good equipment. This aspect of the Italian management of international tensions was finally overcome in the recent E Timor crisis. Timor is a small island belonging to the archipelago of Indonesia, 16,000 kilometers from Italy, a region where national interests are very little. However, as the images of the violence being perpetrated in that region entered the houses of the Italians, the Government immediately started to think to a mean to halt the wild fighting. Despite having the great majority of the operative and effective force abroad, in Kosovo, Albania, Bosnia and Macedonia, personnel, tanks, ships and aircraft from the three Armed Forces were immediately inserted in the multi-national peace-keeping force organization. The 187th Regiment Parachuters “Folgore”, the 1st Rgmt “Tuscania”, the S. Giusto transport ship (carrying also escorting helicopters SH-3D) and G-222s from the 46th Aerobrigata represent the Italian contribution to the INTERFET, the International Force for E Timor, and the Operation Stabilise.
Italian Air Force reaches Australia Within the Aeronautica Militare Italiana, there’s only a Stormo (Wing) tasked with the long range and tactical transportation. It is the 46th Aerobrigata (Air Brigade) at Pisa. It is equipped with both C-130 and G-222 that have landed almost everywhere in the globe, from South America to the Antarctic Continent. The longest trips are always flown by the Hercules, that can carry much materials and men and have longer endurance. However the particular E Timor scenario needed a tactical transport aircraft, with STOL (Short Take OFF and Landing) capabilities and enough loading space to board pallets and soldiers. This meant the Alenia G-222 were about to undertake their longest trip: from Pisa to Darwin AB, the location chosen as the main base for INTEFET flights, as it is the most northern one, only 250 NM from Timor Island coasts. One of the worrying of the planners was the number of vaccines needed by crews to safely operate in an unsafe region. The main problem was the awful Japanese Encephalitis whose vaccine, the J.E.VAX, required 3 giving and 24 days before becoming effective. Also the Malaria and Red Fever were supposed to be a threat in the region. Fortunately, there have been just one case of Japanese Encephalitis and some of Malaria so far. All material needed to build the ItAF detachment was carried on Sept. 20th by C-130s of 50th Gruppo. The creation of the Italian logistic area, hosting 24 people in containers loaned from Australians where an operative Squadron Operation Room (SOR) was reproduced, was particularly long as flights to the area with the Hercules, lasted some 3-4 days (Darwin time is the Australian East Standard Time-1,5 hr thus flying towards Australia caused the pointer of the clock to be put 8 hours and half forward) and a week was behind before they could be back to Pisa. Some support flights to Australia were also performed by B-707TT of the 8th Gruppo, belonging to the 14th Stormo within the 9th Brigata Aerea based at Pratica di Mare. The G-222 arrived on October 7th after a trip crossing 4 continents that comprised intermediate landings at Luxor (Egypt), Abu Dhabi (UAE), Bombay (India), Colombo (Sri Lanka), Phuket (Thailand) and Surabaya (Java). The aircraft were inserted in the ICAW (INTERFET Combined Airlift Wing) composed by 17 aircraft, all C-130 but 2 German C-160 “Transall”, belonging to 8 countries (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, Thailand, United Kingdom and United States). For the first 10 days of deployment, no sorties were flown by G-222 for INTERFET tasks. Liaison flights to Townsville, where Italian Army Parachuters were based, and some local training sorties to familiarize with the areas surrounding the airport characterized the first days. Considering the relatively small amount of flights, unlike Allied Force, when US and Allied military controllers were assigned to ATC units to make coordination more fluent when air traffic became very heavy, no foreign liaison personnel was needed in the ATC, Weather forecasting and Medical services that were all managed by the Australians. In particular, good weather forecasting was paramount at Darwin since Northern Australia weather is characterized by the Monsoon. There are two kind of Monsoons: the wet one, in the September-February period, and the dry one, from March to August. Rainfall rate aside, that is extremely high in the wet season, the Monsoons create a particular concentration of hurricanes. These are very strong and one of them, “Tracy” in 1974, completely destroyed Darwin. For these reasons, an evacuation plan was immediately showed to the Italian personnel and also some training exercises were played. The plan foresaw all the aircraft to be deployed to other bases according to the weather conditions over them.
The daily activity Everyday activity on the other side of the globe, begins at 7:30 AM with the departure of the INTEFET shuttle flights to Timor. The G-222, positioned in one of the two parking stands allocated to the ItAF detach., take off with a separation of 15 minutes from the following shuttle flight in a so called “slot time”. Daily activity is performed by a single G-222 per time thus giving the crews and airframes some time to rest; both aircraft fly seldom together and special clearances are to be coordinated for formation flights. Personnel and materials from various nations are carried to 3 airports out of 4 in the Timorese Island. Italy is the only nation to have scheduled flights to 3 airstrips. Flying with hand-held GPS, the India November Tango (callsign of INTERFET aircraft) flights reach the capital town Dili, in the North of Timor. Their internal fuel tanks are filled to the maximum capacity because no refuel is foreseen on the ground at Timor. Seen from the cockpit, E Timor seems only a great mountain, Mt Mundo Perdido (3,000mt) in its middle, surrounded by thick clouds. An eye is always kept on the radar that is very useful to avoid entering IMC in the big Cumuli Nimbus that are sometimes large as an Italian region. Komoro-Dili airstrip, 2 hours flight-time from Australia, has a 1,800mt asphalt runway and it is surrounded by sea. Some helicopters from the World Food Program and United Nations aircraft are based there. The second airstrip reached flying Est-bound for 30 minutes is Baucau, also lying on the northern coast. Baucau is located on a plateau. It is a weird airfield built by Indonesia; completely isolated, with no fences surrounding it, it is not easy to understand why somebody should have projected a so wide base in a desert area. It seems that it could be used as an ideal forward operating base for an invasion of Australia. Today is the headquarters of the Thailand base. When the aircraft approaches the airstrip, armed soldiers move in “key” positions to protect it. In fact, Baucau is one of the “hot spot” in E Timor. Some of the worst fights took place here. The runway is a bit longer than the Komoro airport one, but it is so often “crossed” by buffalo and cows (with consequent delays in take off procedures) that the ItAF PIO Lt Babini, nicknamed it “Baucow”. The third lag of flight makes the G-222 reaching Suai airstrip after a second landing at Dili. Personnel on ATC facilities at both Baucau and capital city are Australian. Suai is the most Eastern airport, 25 minutes of flight from Dili and it is the nearest landing strip to W. Timor and consequently the one holding the highest threatcon level. Its 905mt runway is so short that no other aircraft of the ICAW are allowed to land in the airstrip that is completely surrounded by jungle. Unlike other Timorese airports, where ATC services are provided by Australian controllers, there are no ATC facilities available at Suai and armed helicopters frequently patrol the area. It is the base of the Malaysian and “Kiwi’s” (NZ) contingents. As all landing strip have been reached, “I-N-T” flights fly from Suai directly to Darwin, that is reached in less than two hours, and land there approximately at 3:30-4:00 PM. Flight activities are not performed later in the afternoon by G-222 because of weather conditions, always worsening. Torrential rains and thunderstorms are common features for Darwin autumnal nights.
Conclusions Keeping an operative force alive at the antipodes was a great challenge for the Aeronautica Militare Italiana. At the time of writing, Italian AF detach. has flown more than 161 flights in 45 missions with 1,300 passengers ferried and 142 tons of material carried. The mission, not only the Italian one, but the whole Stabilise and Warden (Australian operation), has been a success so far and planners think we are a step away from peace in the E Timor region. Next challenge is to help the 150,000 refugees to safely reach their houses. With its main goals reached, the INTERFET contingent will be reduced in the following months. While many Armed Forces will gradually leave the beautiful Australian landscapes, the Italian Air Force flag will remain on the Australian soil and pilots will exploit G-222 and C-130 to their limits to help the refugees and, at the same time, to carry Italian soldiers back to Italy. Likely, new forces are about to be taken on charge for the new millennium challenges: C-130J and C-27J.