Italian Tornado jets help police forces finding a marijuana plantation during anti-drug mission

Italian Tornado combat planes took part in an anti-drug mission aimed at finding a marijuana plantation not far from their homebase.

About 250 kg of cannabis were seized in northern Italy after a plantation was discovered at Quinzano, near Brescia.

Interestingly, the operation was supported by the Italian Air Force Tornado IDS aircraft of the 6° Stormo (Wing) based at Ghedi, near Brescia. The ItAF jets were in fact tasked with reconnaissance runs aimed at discovering the farm and gathering imagery that was then used by the Carabinieri (Military Police) to arrest two people involved with the plantation.

It is not the first time Italian attack planes are requested by other national agencies to perform reconnaissance missions: for instance, in the aftermath of the 6.0 earthquake that hit central Italy on Aug. 24 causing about 300 deaths, ItAF Tornados supported the relief operations collecting imagery used to map the damages to Amatrice and the nearby villages.

Reccelite imagery of Amatrice in the aftermath of the earthquake. Source: ItAF
Reccelite imagery of Amatrice in the aftermath of the earthquake. Source: ItAF

The Tornados have already been involved in sort-of anti-drug missions abroad: from November 2008 to December 2009, the Italian jets were deployed to Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, from where they supported ISAF with reconnaissance missions: many of these were tasked with the aim of discovering opium poppy farms and depots across a country that produces more than 90% of heroin worldwide.

In “recce” role at home and in theater, the Italian aircraft carry a Rafael Reccelite reconnaissance pod: the 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.

The Reccelite reconnaissance pod is used to broadcast live video imagery via datalink to ground stations and to ROVER (Remote Operations Video Enhanced Receiver) tactical receivers in a range of about 100 miles.

The Tornados have used the pod in combat not only in Afghanistan, but also in Libya and more recently in Kuwait, where the aircraft were deployed to support, with ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) missions, the air war against ISIS.

By the way, the pod can also be carried by the AMX ACOL, the light tactical jet that has performed close air support/air interdiction and ISR missions in support of ISAF from 2009 to 2014, and have recently replaced the Tornados in Kuwait.


Training missions in reconnaissance role see the aircraft overflying a series of targets taking photographs that are then analysed by image interpreters: during the above mentioned mission, one of the targets was a real one, a suspected cannabis farm.



About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a 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 five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. Please read the story.
    Although it’s unusual to have an aircraft take some photographs of a cannabis farm, this has probably had almost no additional cost for the taxpayer: in a list of several targets to be overflown and photographed during a standard training sortie, on the day they flew this anti-drug mission there was also a suspected plantation, located just a few chilometers off the base. No additional fuel, no additional coordination. Just the usual planning and execution on a realistic target.

    • While I find the moral dilemma of fighter jets doing police work far more troubling, I think its impossible to argue that “no time” was spent during the operation. While I’m not sure the per flight hour cost of this platform I’m sure its not cheap.

      • But cencio4 has a point. They did it during training flight. I just could not resist to start a fire on the subject :)

  2. There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.
    —Capt William Adama

  3. If they could do the same here in Mexico they are welcome!! The damn drugs are killing the country and infecting US! but of course this will never be, because the corruption is in all levels!

    • The corruption is a consequence of the illegal market. That is what you get when you put criminals to control of the production, distribution and selling of dangerous substances. Drugs must be controlled by honest people and not criminals who sells even for kids inside schools.

  4. What kind of mission marking will the aircraft receive? Maybe an image of McGruff the anti-crime dog? This is so stupid….

    • “flyboy” (or do you prefer “ODM”, “Chalmers” or “BobbotheKnobbo”)
      I don’t think they are going to get any mission marking.

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