First in Europe, the Italian Air Force Declares IOC For Its First F-35A Squadron During TLP 18-4

One of the ItAF F-35s taking off during TLP at Amendola (Image credit: Claudio Tramontin/The Aviationist)

The Aeronautica Militare has declared its F-35s operational.

On Nov. 30, 2018, during the media day of TLP 18-4 currently underway at Amendola, in southeastern Italy (the first iteration of the course to integrate 4th and 5th Gen. aircraft), the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) declared Initial Operating Capability with the F-35A Lightning II.

ItAF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Alberto Rosso broke the news:

“Today is an important day for the Italian Air force. With the Initial Operational Capability we are the first in Europe to achieve a real operational capability with a 5th generation aircraft: it means we reached the capability with multiple aircraft, we have crews properly trained to operate the platform and a long term maintenance and logistic support”. Indeed, the IOC certifies that the first Italian unit, the 13° Gruppo (Squadron), belonging to the 32° Stormo (Wing) based at Amendola, is ready for allied operations.

In December 2016, the Italian Air Force became the very first service to take delivery of the 5th generation stealth jet outside of the U.S. Since then, totalling more 2,000 flying hours, the 13° Gruppo has taken part in the type’s first national large scale drills during Vega 2017 multinational joint exercise; has deployed to another base Italian airbase as part of “Operation Lightning“; has conducted two firing campaigns in the Sardinian ranges operating from Decimomannu; has flown over “Polygone” elecronic warfare range, in Bann, Germany; has achieved an IOC in the air-to-air role supporting the SSSA (Servizio Sorveglianza Spazio Aereo – Air Space Surveillance Service) with a Standard Conventional Load (SCL) that includes the AIM-120C5 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) missile; has conducted joint drills with Typhoons, G550 CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning) and T-346 jets.

An F-35A taxies at Amendola. (Image credit: Author)

For the moment, Rome plans to procure 90 F-35 to replace the ItAF’s ageing AMX and Tornado and the Italian Navy’s AV-8B+ Harrier jump jets: 60 F-35As and 30 F-35Bs. Currently, 10 F-35As and one F-35B (destined to the Italian Navy) have been delivered: the 13th Gruppo operates 8 F-35As that have been upgraded to the Block 3F; the other two are used for training at Luke Air Force Base, in the U.S.”

As the first European nation to declare IOC, Italy’s F-35 fleet sets the foundation for NATO’s next generation air power capability and we look forward to continuing our strong partnership with Italy to build and sustain the 5th generation F-35 today and for decades to come,” says a Lockheed Martin release.

The Italian Air Force is the fourth service to declare IOC, joining the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps and Israeli Air Force.

Italy is home to the European Final Assembly and Checkout Facility, one of three production facilities around the world, where F-35 aircraft are produced.

An Italian F-35 lands at Amendola on Nov. 29, at the end of a TLP 18-4 mission

More than 50 aircraft from 10 different nations are taking part in TLP 18-4, the first attended by the F-35 and, as such, the first flying course for Mission Commanders with a concrete integration of 4th and 5th gen aircraft: Italian Eurofighter, T-346A, G-550 CAEW, KC-767A, P-72A, HH-101 and HH-212 helicopters as well as MQ-1C and MQ-9A drones; NATO E-3A Airborne Early Warning and Control (AWACS); Italian Navy AV-8B U.S. F-15C and KC-135; German F-2000 and Tornado ECR; Dutch and Belgian F-16s.

A Belgian Air Force F-16, member of the Red Air, departs for a TLP mission on Nov. 28, 2018. (Image credit: Author).
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.