Italian Air Force F-35 Jets Take Part In “Lightning Thunder Over Europe” Exercise

Head on shot of an F-35. (Image credit: Italian Air Force Troupe Azzurra)

The Italian Air Force F-35 Lightning II aircraft are pretty busy these days.

From Mar. 11 to 15, six F-35A stealth aircraft of the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) belonging to the 32° Stormo (Wing) based at Amendola Air Base, in southeastern Italy, have deployed to Istrana Air Base, in the northeastern part of the country, home to the 51° Stormo.

From there, the Italian stealth jets, have conducted sorties over the “Polygone”, located in Germany, near the border with France, to undertake specific training against threats simulated inside the Electronic Warfare range.

Dubbed “Lightning Over Europe”, the deployment (the second of this kind after the one carried out last year at Rivolto) is a further step in the path to the FOC (Final Operational Capability) as it validated the ability to deploy the 5th generation aircraft in a so-called “Out and Back” mode, with the jets launching a high rate of sorties far from their homebase. In particular, the activity over the EW range had the purpose to test the F-35’s ability to face real and simulated anti-aircraft systems.

An F-35 taxies out of the shelter at Istrana Air Base, during Operation “Lightning Thunder over Europe”. (Image credit: ItAF Troupe Azzurra)

The deployment was also a testbed to the technical and logistical support that the 51° Stormo was able to provide to the “advance team” of the 32° Stormo: indeed, during the week of “Lightning Thunder Over Europe”, Istrana Air Base has continued to carry out its daily activity with the AMX jets of the 132° Gruppo and also supported the Typhoon QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) cell deployed there as part of the Servizio Sorveglianza Spazio Aereo (Air Space Surveillance Service).

The one in Istrana is just the last in a series of short deployments conducted by the Italian Lightnings since the aircraft were taken on charge in December 2016: during little more than 2 years the reliability of the fleet has been surprising. Just think that, both in February 2019, when the 13° Gruppo conducted its third firing campaign in Decimomannu, and March 2019, during “Lightning Thunder Over Europe”, the squadron was able to deploy 6 out of 10/11 aircraft in service with the 32° Stormo. Not bad, especially if compared to what other armed forces are experiencing in terms of mission capable F-35s reliability.

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.