Monthly Archives: December 2010

Smile and say "cheese": postcards from the "Black Cats"

After publishing the video taken by an Italian AMX over Afghanistan I’ve received, through the Italian Air Force Press Office the following pictures taken by the Task Group “Black Cats”, deployed to Herat. The TG has recently reached the 2.000 flying hours milestone, flying ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) missions in support of the ground forces and local population. As Maj. Michele Grassi, commander of the “Black Cats” recently affirmed: “The 2.000 hours we have achieved allowed us to process and interpret more than 17.000 photographs and to perform an accurate analysis of about 1,300 targets in support of ground security forces. Reconnaissance sorties have also been useful to check the status of bridges, roads and schools, rebuilt even in areas outside the Italian area of responsability”. Manned and Unmmanned aircraft (like Predator UAVs) provide a privileged and complementary perspective of the area of operations: the Predator, in fact, can remain airborne for more than 20 hours and, with its sensors, it can seamlessly control a specific purpose for long time slots; the AMXs move faster and achieve their goals in a shorter time, even at great distances, ensuring the immediacy of the action.

Italian Air Force secret involvement in Vietnam war?

In the last week I had the opportunity to discuss about his researches with Mr. Diego Verdegiglio who is currently writing a book about the Italian involvement in the Vietnam war. During his studies on the topic he has heard of an unofficial (covert) employment, between 1963 and 1975, of some Italian Élite corps and of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) in Vietnam, as a consequence of a secret agreement between the Italian secret service and the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). Something similar had been asked weeks earlier by another reader, who had sent me an email to know my opinion about the possibility that Italian pilots had flown as backseaters inside the RF-4C Phantoms in recce missions about North Vietnam (NVN) to evalutate the weapons system because of the possible Italian interest in that type of aircraft and that others were sent as observers and advisors in the USAF squadrons equipped with the F-104C. I replied to both that I think that, although intriguing, the involvement of Italian pilots as Wizzos (WSOs, Weapons Systems Officers) on board US aircraft was nothing more than an urban legend: in those years, the ItAF had no WSOs (that arrived at the beginning of the ’80s with the Tornado, with the name of “navigatori”, Italian for navigators). Where and when these flying crews had gained their qualification and combat readiness to be employed in a fierce air war? What about the possibility that, being shot down in a Phantom over NVN (quite probable looking at the number of aircraft downed during the war) , the Italian pilot was killed or taken by the enemy? The secret would be unveiled with a violent reaction by the Italian public opinion.
However, Mr. Verdegiglio sent me the scan of an article written by Umberto Postiglioni and Nico Sgarlato and published in 1988 by RID, the most important and authoritative Italian Defence magazine, according to which, an inquiry, made in 1969, after a letter received by a journalist disclosed the involvement of Italian pilots in SE Asia, had discovered that 5 Italian F-104 pilots, possibly belonging to the Rimini based 5° Stormo, were deployed in Vietnam, under a fake US identity, as either advisors for the 435th TFS flying the F-104, or as backseaters on the RF-4 to evaluate the aircraft with a view to a possible provision of this type of aircraft to the ItAF. Even if I still believe that the partecipation of the ItAF crews to the Vietnam war is an urban legend, I thought it could be interesting to write this post and to hear from readers from all around the world that have might have some detail about this story.

C-17 Gear up landing in Bagram: the aircraft accident investigation board report

On Jan. 30, 2009, a C-17A tail number 60002 landed at Bagram air base in Afghanistan with the landing gear retracted. A few days after the mishap I published some interesting pictures showing the damaged aircraft on the runway at Bagram and that post is not only one of the most read of this website, but it is also one of the most commented by visitors (especially from the US). Even if the aircraft accident investigation board issued its final report in May 2009 (as I wrote in a previous post) there is still people providing different versions and explainations of the accident without any knowledge of the evidences collected by the investigation board. For this reason I think that it could be interesting for someone to read at least the executive summary of the above mentioned report (that is available in full version here) by clicking on the thumbnail below.

AMX over Afghanistan on board video

A video, showing the images recorded by a Recce Lite pod of an AMX and transmitted to a ground unit equipped with a Remote Optical Video Enhanced Receiver (ROVER) via data-link during a reconnaissance and surveillance mission in Afghanistan was made available by the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) on Dec. 2, 2010, one year since the 4 “Ghibli” of the Task Group “Black Cats” deployed to Herat, Afghanistan. In the video, the Italian pilot informs a French military of a possible threat posed by two insurgents with “weapons in their hands” hidden in a canal, possibly preparing an ambush for the convoy.

The Italian AMXs, that arrived in theatre on Nov. 5, 2009, have already flown 1.800 flying hours during 700 ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) day and night sorties above the Afghan territory. The early detection of hidden insurgents preparing an attack to the ground forces is one of the most important tasks performed by the AMXs (that are equipped only with a Recce Lite pod and their 20 mm M61A1 Vulcan gun) that, on the other hand, as any other bomber operating in theatre, are almost unuseful when performing the so called “show of force”, a noisy “dry” low level flyby aimed at getting the insurgents scared; the insurgents hide until the fighters are far enough and get back to their activities extremely quickly….attack helicopters, ground forces and HUMINT are much more effective to flush out the terrorists from their coves.

The following pictures show the Italian AMX ACOLs departing for a training sortie during Ex. Vega 2010.

F-16I Sufa and the IAF deployments overseas

After reading my latest posts about the Israeli detachment to Decimomannu for the Vega 2010 exercise, Matteo Marianeschi sent me the following pictures of the two Israeli Air Force F-16I Sufa (the latest and most advanced version of the Lockheed Martin F-16 based on current Block 50/52 production aircraft, equipped with the characteristic Conformal Fuel Tanks) that attended the Kecskemét Air Force Day in Hungary on Aug. 7 – 8, 2010. Noteworthy, the deployment of the two fighters supported by a C-130, came a week after an IAF CH-53 had crashed in Romania killing 6 Israeli and 1 Romanian on board, on Jul. 26, 2010. After all, deploying overseas has become frequent for the IAF because, according to an IDF source: “during a war, a pilot will need to navigate in places he has never been before. Flying overseas in new terrain helps prepare pilots.” Indeed, the number of deployments overseas has grown significantly in recent years due to the growing tensions with Iran and Syria: the IAF flew to Romania, Italy (as shown by the detachments to Decimomannu taking place almost yearly since 2003; in October 2009 involving the F-16I Sufa of the 107 Sqn) and especially Greece, that Flight International has recently defined the “new foreign training zone for the Israeli Air Force”. According to FI, at least four joint exercises combining Greek and Israeli combat aircraft were performed in recent months: in October the IAF’s Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow and Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters completed a joint training exercise with the Greek Air Force, followed, in late November, by other unspecified Israeli aircraft involved in bilateral manoeuvres.