Italy has become the first country to operate the F-35 outside of the U.S.
Actually, the Italian (not the Israeli) Air Force has been the first service to take delivery of the first operational F-35s outside the United States.
On Dec. 12, whilst several Israeli and international media outlets focused on the delivery of the first F-35I “Adir” to Nevatim airbase (delayed by some 6 hours because of fog) highlighting how Israel had just become “the first country after the US” to get the new plane, far from the spotlight, the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing) of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) received its first two F-35A Lightning II, becoming the very first country to take delivery of the 5th generation stealth jet outside of the U.S.
Noteworthy, the delivery flight was carried out by two Italian military pilots (the Israeli planes were flown by Lockheed Martin pilots) who flew their two JSFs (Joint Strike Fighters) to Amendola, where the aircraft landed in the early afternoon on Monday.
Indeed, whereas the arrival of the first Israeli or Dutch F-35s got a significant media coverage (with constant updates, live streaming on social media, etc.), the Italian Air Force has kept a very “low profile” about its achievements with the F-35 so far.
However, Italy has made some significant work on the Lightning II: on Dec. 3, 2015, the ItAF welcomed the first F-35 at the Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility at Cameri, in northwestern Italy. That aircraft was also the first assembled and delivered outside the U.S.
Then, on Feb. 5, 2016 the first Italian Air Force F-35, successfully completed the type’s very first transatlantic crossing landing at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. To prepare for the 7-hour transoceanic flight the Italian Air Force conducted tanker trials in the U.S. (in July 2015) with its KC-767A, that became the first tanker not operated by the U.S. Air Force to undergo refueling certification trials with an F-35.
Three Italian F-35s are currently deployed at Luke’s multinational F-35 pilot training centre.
And, as explained mentioned, on Dec. 12, the first two aircraft (reportedly AL-5 and AL-6) arrived at their operational base in southeastern Italy.
The F-35 is for sure the most famous (and controversial) defense program in Italy.
For the moment, Rome’s plan is to procure 90 F-35 to replace the ItAF’s ageing AMX and Tornado and the Italian Navy’s AV-8B+ Harrier jump jets.