Italian Air Force Tornado ECR Jets Are Deployed To California To Test Their New AGM-88E Advanced Anti Radiation Guided Missile

The Italian “Tonkas” are currently deployed to Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake along with four Eurofighter Typhoons and a C-27J Spartan.

A small contingent of nine Italian Air Force aircraft is currently deployed to California. Four Tornado ECR (EA-200B in accordance with the Italian MoD Mission Design Series), belonging to the 6° Stormo (Wing) from Ghedi; four Eurofighter Typhoon jets (F-2000A), belonging to the 4°, 36° and 37° Stormo respectively from Grosseto, Gioia del Colle and Trapani; and one C-27J Spartan with the 46^ Brigata Aerea (Air Brigate) from Pisa, have been operating out of NAWS China Lake, California, since the end of February as part of an operation dubbed “Blazing Shield” that saw the aircraft cross the Pond via Lajes, Azores, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, accompanied by two KC-767A tankers of the 14° Stormo and a C-130J of the 46th Air Brigade that provided oceanic SAR support along the route.

The Tornado ECR jets of the 155° Gruppo (Squadron) at China Lake. The aircraft are ECR RET8 “IT Full MLU” (Credit: ItAF)

The main goal of “Blazing Shield” is the Operational Test & Evaluation (OT&E) of the Tornado ECR (a variant specialized in Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses missions) with the new AGM-88E AARGM (Advanced Anti Radiation Guided Missile) the a follow-on variant of the HARM (High Speed Anti Radiation Missile), the missile used for SEAD missions, developed under a US and Italian joint acquisition programme led by the US Navy. The AARGM features new software, improved ability to geo-locate and neutralize the threats thanks to a multi-mode seeker that embeds a passive radar and an active millimeter wave seekers.

The OE&T involves a joint team led by the Reparto Sperimentale Volo (RSV – Italian Air Force Test Wing) and includes two live fire events in the China Lake ranges.

As a side note, along with the AGM-88B and E, the Italian Tornado ECR can carry JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions)as part of the Tornado ECR RET8 “IT Full MLU” retrofit program. The 155° Gruppo (Squadron) has achieved the mission capability qualification with the new GBU-32 JDAMs (the same carried by the Tornado IDS), with a DEAD (Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses) mission in 2016.

It’s the first time the Italian Typhoons deploy to China Lake. The Tornado ECR have been already deployed there during the first firing campaign with the AGM-88 HARM in 2002.

In addition to the activity with the “Echo”, the deployment provides an opportunity to validate and improve the self-protection capabilities of the Eurofighter, Tornado and C-27J platforms, in order to expand their ability to operate in all the theaters. During their stay in the U.S. the aircraft have also had an opportunity to perform low level sorties paying visit to the famous Jedi Transition (also known as the Star Wars canyon).

The Italian Spartan on the ramp at NAWS China Lake.

The aircraft are due to return to Italy towards the end of April.

Top image: file photo of a Tornado ECR (credit: Giovanni Maduli / The Aviationist)

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About David Cenciotti 3634 Articles
David Cenciotti is a freelance 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 four books.