Italian Air Force Typhoon, AMX, Tornado, T-346 And F-35A Jets As Well As Greek F-4E Phantoms Take Part In Italy’s Largest Drills In 2017

Exercise Vega 2017 put the Italian Air Force’s most advanced “hardware” to test.

Vega 2017 (VG17) is the name of the Italian Air Force-led aerial exercise included in Joint Stars 2017, Italy’s largest joint drills organized this year “to train commands and forces undertaking various types of missions that may be required in future national and multinational operations. ”

The JS17 developed through two phases. The first one, dubbed Virtual Flag 2017 (VF17), took place from Jun. 10 to 15 and was a Command Post Exercise / Computer Assisted Exercise (CPX / CAX): a virtual exercise that, among the other things, simulated the planning and execution of an Air Heavy (AH) Theater Ballistic Missile Defense (TBMD)-oriented Small Joint Operation (SJO). Noteworthy, VF17 also featured several cyber threats and attacks to the network used to disseminate information among participating units.

The second part of the JS17, which began on Sept. 25 in the form of a CPX, continued from Oct. 16 to 27 as three “federated” exercises within a LIVEX (Live Exercise), an exercise made of actual assets. In particular, this phase saw the integration of three exercises: “Lampo 17” led by the Italian Army; “Mare Aperto 2017” led by the Italian Navy; and “Vega 2017,” the Italian Air Force’s exercise.

The Livex phase of JS17 focused on a SJO in the form of a Non-combatant Evactuation Operation (NEO) and included a series of tactical events, including an amphibious operation.

Dealing with the Italian Air Force, VG17 saw the involvement of 1,000 military, 40 aircraft, 7 airbases, one GCI site and several C2 (command and control) units, the task of those was to ensure air superiority within the context of a CSO (Crisis Support Operation) as well as various other missions flown in support of the other Armed Forces, including CAS (Close Air Support), SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses), CSAR (Combat Search And Rescue), AEW-BM & C missions (Airborne Early Warning – Battlefield Management and Communication), tactical transport of operational personnel, evacuation of injured or endangered civilians.

An ItAF Typhoon with the 36° Stormo from Gioia del Colle, deployed to Trapani, during aerial refueling ops with a KC-767.

The MOB (Main Operating Base) of the exercise was Trapani, in Sicily, where Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft with the 4°, 36° and 37° Stormo (the local-based Wing), along with Tornado IDS and ECR of the 6° Stormo and AMX of the 51° Stormo were deployed.

ItAF AMX ACOL are currently deployed to Kuwait as part of the Task Force Air Kuwait supporting the coalition involved in the air war on Daesh performing reconnaissance missions. The unit has already logged more than 3.000 FH in theater.

Decimomannu, in Sardinia, was the DOB (Deployment Operating Base) for the T-346 belong to the 212° Gruppo of the 61° Stormo , for the C-27J belonging to the 46^ Brigata Aerea, for the HH-101 and HH-139 of the 15° Stormo, for the HH-212 of the 9° Stormo.

The HH-212 of the 21° Gruppo wearing the Tiger Meet special livery.

F-4E Phantom jets of the 339 Mira (Squadron) of the Hellenic Air Force, at their latest international appearance before the unit was disbanded, after 65 years of history, on Oct. 31, 2017, took part in VG17 operating from “Deci” as well.

Four Hellenic Air Force F-4E AUP jets. The HAF deployed its Phantoms belonging ot the 339 Mira to Decimomannu.
The Greek F-4E AUP Phantoms from 339 Mira took part in VG17 few days before the squadron was disbanded after 65 years.

The other supporting assets mainly operated from their homebases: the G550 CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning) aircraft of the 14° Stormo flew from Pratica di Mare, the KC-767 Tanker of the 14° and the KC-130J of the 46th Air Brigade, engaged in multiple daily sorties, operated respectively from Pratica di Mare and Pisa; the MQ-9 Predator B of the 32° Stormo, from Amendola.

Italian Tonka gets fuel from the hose of a KC-767. The Italian Air Force committed both the KC-767 and the KC-130J to support the exercise.

Dealing with Amendola, it’s worth mentioning that two F-35A Lightning II of the 13° Gruppo supported Capo Teulada’s amphibious landing on Oct. 26 (as proved by one of the videos published by the Italian MoD on the website dedicated to the JS17 exercise), before landing, for the very first time, at Decimomannu airbase.

The F-35A 5th gen. combat aircraft of the 13° Gruppo took part in a joint exercise for the very first time.

Among the most interesting things we have noticed during VG17, it’s worth a mention the fact that the F-2000s flew some sorties carrying the Litening targeting pod on the centerline pylon, most probably to support CAS missions, meaning that they were also tasked with Swing Role missions. In fact, a secondary air-to-surface capability of the the ItAF Typhoon fleet was developed back in 2015 and validated in 2016 with the participation in Red Flag 16-2 with three Tranche 2 aircraft that embedded the P1E(B) upgrades and were loaded with the latest SRP (Software Release Package) that allowed the use of GBU-16 Paveway II LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs).

A Tornado refuels while four Typhoons wait their turn on the tanker’s left wing.

VG17 featured some other interesting “firsts”: besides the G550 CAEW, at its first joint exercise [actually the aircraft has already taken part in a real operation, to secure the G7 summit in Taormina back in May 2017], the drills saw the operational debut of the T-346’s HMD (Helmet Mounted Display) system. The helmet system projects essential symbology and aiming parameters onto the visor, enhancing the pilot’s situational awareness and providing head-out control of aircraft targeting systems and sensors. The HMD coupled to its stunning performance and ability to simulate the flight characteristics of other aircraft and to replicate a wide array of sensors and weapons as if these were actually installed on the aircraft made the T-346, playing the Aggressor role, an even more realistic “Bandit” in the aerial engagements of VG17.

T-346s from the 212° Gruppo performed the Aggressors role as part of the OPFOR (Opposing Forces).

All the images in this post were taken by The Aviationist’s photographers Alessandro Fucito and Giovanni Maduli.


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. Italy is shaped like a boot for a reason – to kick the Russian keister out of the Mediterranean should Putin or his hand-picked dictatorial successor ever attempt to cause mischief, mayhem or war on NATO’s southern flank.

    I don’t know about you, but I for one am damn glad Italy has the air power needed to send the Russians packing should circumstances dictate. And pack they will when confronted with the current and future air power of the Aeronautica Militare.

    The Russian military wouldn’t stand a chance if they dared to militarily challenge NATO or Italy, in particular in the air (we’re not Ukraine). They have nothing to challenge the F-35, and they sure as hell know it. That’s why they troll forums like this in order to try and sway Western public opinion against it. Not on my watch!

  2. The double ugly still flying to this day… amazing! That must have been one awesome formation to see all those aircraft flying together. The tactics that they’re making with the F-35 will make that aircraft even more effective. Here in the U.S. we already saw what F-22s and F-35s can do. Anyone who thinks or believes otherwise at this point is simply wrong.

  3. Up next, and further proof of U.S. technological superiority, the Lockheed Martin Lance Laser:

    Fighter jets with laser weapons set to take to the skies in 2021 as Lockheed Martin wins $26 million ‘Lance’ high-energy laser contract

    Lockheed Martin is working to develop a high-power fiber laser for fighter jets.

    “The new laser system would allow fighter jets to take down targets from the air, in contrast to previous systems, which were mounted on vehicles or ships.”

    Ahh yes, yes. I can think of many types of targets this system could be employed against, And many evil nations that need to be taught a lesson by it (Iran, DPRK, Russia). And guess what? These lasers are only going to get more powerful, more deadly as time marches on. Hitting air and ground targets at the speed of light! No chance to get away. What say I? Wonderful!

    Hopefully they’ll develop a pod that can be affixed to current generation aircraft wing or fuselage hardpoints. The power may come from a ram air turbine on front of the device combined with power generation from the jet itself. F-35’s F135 powerplant certainly creates enough. And hopefully we’ll share the technology with allies like Israel, Italy, the UK, et al.

    Now let’s all be honest, can we? If you are not an American, aren’t you just a wee bit jealous? No? Oh yes you are! Ol’ Leroy can smell fear and jealousy clear across the world wide web. And let me tell you – the stench I’m breathing in now is practically making me want to pass out! I know where and who it’s coming from. Don’t worry. I can simply hold my nose. Given the trolls I’ve had to endure over the Internet, especially where F-35 is concerned, I’ve had lots of practice. : )

  4. A laser pod attached to an aircraft weapon or fuel hardpoint? Here it comes; “But if you hang it from the F-35 there goes your stealth”! Well my foolish friend (those who had that thought – I know who you are), not every mission requires stealth. Besides, who says a stealthy pod can’t be developed? Along the lines of Israel’s F-35I external fuel tank which they are developing (in case they have to take out the evil mullahs in Tehran naturally). It can be done. Maybe just make the RCS just a little bit bigger, that’s all. But this will primarily make it’s debut on the U.S.’s 6th generation fighter.

    If we want to kick the door of an enemy in (can already do that already of course, with impunity as Israel just proved over Homs where S400 based out of Tartus couldn’t do a damn thing to stop them – “them” probably being F-35Is), there will be nothing standing in our way. Superiority is guaranteed the U.S. for the next 100 years. Wait until they put AI on these things! This all has a name. It’s called INVINCIBILITY. Nice thing to have on any battlefield.

    • Yes.
      The C/L station has the best FOV for the pod, as opposed to a wing or shoulder station.

      The RAAF Hornets use the C/L for a targeting pod, as opposed to Stn. 4 because carrying a fuel tank blocks a lot of it’s FOV.

      The RCAF, USMC, etc fly with configs that avoid carrying a drop tank on Stn.3 if they’re planning on using the pod.

  5. Nice to see the advances in technology that these planes represent. And a question to leroy, do you take your military propaganda as a drink or do you take it intravenously? Seriously, give it a rest.

    • The elixir of unmatched U.S. military technological superiority is one I savor with passion, exhilaration and delight. But how do I order it? Why as a drink of course – shaken, not stirred. Would you have expected anything else?

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