Let’s Have A Look At The Italian Armed Forces “Dual Use” Demo At Pratica di Mare Airbase

An Italian F-35 overflies Pratica di Mare during the Dual Role event on May 7. (Image credit: The Aviationist's Alessandro Fucito).

A series of tactical events were carried out at Pratica di Mare airbase to show the ability of the Italian military assets to be used for both military and civilian operations.

“Dual use” is a term that refers technologies that can be used for military and civilian purposes.

“Dual use” has also become a sort of mantra of the Italian approach to the defense matters. Investments, developments, exercises: it looks like no military activity can be carried out just because it serves specific defense purposes, it must also support civilian operations. Actually, the Italian Armed Forces have always been “Dual”, regularly conducting peacetime operations in support of the population. Search And Rescue, Humanitarian Relief, Medical Transportation, Medical Evactuation, Firefighting, National Security: these are just a few of the many missions regularly carried out by the Italian military for the community.

However, especially in recent times, the “Dual use” purpose of the military technologies has increasingly emerged in official statements and public discussions, as if being “Dual” made choices pertaining to the defense, which are periodically at the center of political controversy, more acceptable.

That said, on May 7, Pratica di Mare airbase, near Rome, hosted a “Dual use”-related demo.

Dubbed “Duplice Uso Sistemico” (Italian for “Systemic Dual Use”), the demo was aimed at showing how the Armed Forces and the Carabinieri (Military Police) can coordinate and support the Civil Protection in case of national emergencies.

One of the Italian Navy EH-101 taking part to the demo (Image credit: TheAv / Alessandro Fucito)

Attended, among the others, by the Italian PM Giuseppe Conte, the Italian Ministry of Defense Elisabetta Trenta and the Joint Chief of Staff Gen. Enzo Vecciarelli, the demo focused on a scenario where the Italian military and civilian agencies had to respond to a earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit the coast west of Rome. The relief operation was managed from a joint and inter-agency operation room aboard Italian Navy Etna auxiliary ship, operating in the Tyrrhenian Sea, off Pratica di Mare, where VIPs were transported using two Italian Navy EH-101 helos escorted by an Army A-129D Mangusta gunship and an ItAF HH.139A carrying riflemen.

An AH-129D and an HH-139A escorted two EH-101. (Image credit: TheAv / Alessandro Fucito)

The simulated events included the rescue of injured people and the medical evacuation of civilians from the area hit by the seismic event; the air escort of an aircraft carrying a person infected with a highly contagious virus to Pratica di Mare; and the biocontainment and the decontamination activities from chemical, bacteriological and radioactive substances from an individual once on the ground.

Biocontainment activities carried out after the infected individual has been disembarked. Two F-35s escort a P-180 that was (simulating) the transportation of an infected indivudal. (Image credit: TheAv / Giovanni Maduli)

The SAR segment of the demo involved the helicopters of both the Italian Air Force, Navy and Army (HH-139A, SH-90, AB-412) and an escorting mainly performing winching demos).

An ItAF HH-139 and an Italian Army AB412 took part in the SAR demo. (Image credit: TheAv/Giovanni Maduli).

Worth of note is the fact that the Italian Air Force F-35A belonging to the 32° Stormo (Wing) from Amendola were deployed to Pratica di Mare and took part in the air escort of a P-180 of the Protezione Civile (Italian Civil Protection): they were scrambled to intercept the aircraft carrying the infcted individual and shadowed it to landing, while a G.550 CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning) aircraft from the Pratica di Mare-based 14° Stormo, provided Air Management from a nearby orbit.

Two F-35s escort a P-180 that was (simulating) the transportation of an infected indivudal. (Image credit: TheAv / Alessandro Fucito)
Close up on the “unsual” formation made by two F-35s and one P-180 during the air escort demo (Image credit: TheAv / Giovanni Maduli)

Although it’s somehow unusual to see an F-35 in the interceptor role, it must be remembered that since Mar. 1, 2018, the Italian F-35A aircraft have been declared IOC (Initial Operational Capability) in the air defense mission and ready to support the SSSA (Servizio Sorveglianza Spazio Aereo – Air Space Surveillance Service) – normally carried out by the Eurofighter Typhoon. This means that, if needed, the 5th generation aircraft can undertake regular QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) shifts or be diverted from a different mission to intercept and identify unknown aircraft, with a Standard Conventional Load (SCL) that includes the AIM-120C5 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) missile. In this case, it was probably decided to use the F-35 because the demo was an interesting opportunity to showcase the new stealth aircraft at “work” (also in cooperation with the new CAEW).

G550 CAEW and two F-35s perform a flypast over Pratica di Mare. (Image credit: TheAv / Alessandro Fucito)


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.