First Among All The Partner Nations, Italy Deploys F-35s To Iceland For NATO Air Policing Mission

Close up view on an Italian F-35A Lightning II. (Image credit: Author)

The Italian Lightnings have already arrived at Keflavik International Airport, Iceland.

The Italian F-35A Lightning II stealth jets belonging to the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing) will take over the Icelandic Air Policing mission, saveguarding Iceland’s airspace in the next weeks.

The Italian aircraft, that have already deployed to Keflavik International Airport, from their homebase at Amendola AB in southeastern Italy, will start flying familiarisation sorties in the next few days. After achieving the NATO certification they will start QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) duties.

It’s the second time this year the Italians support the Icelandic Air Policing mission (the fifth in total) and the very first with the 5th Generation aircraft. Noteworthy, the Italian Air Force is the first partner nation to deploy the Joint Strike Fighter on a NATO mission.

At the time of writing there are no other official statements than that released a few days ago by the Icelandic Coast Guard, announcing the deployment of the six jets and about 140 supporting personnel, as well as members of the NATO Combined Air Operations Center Uedem (Germany).

The F-35s, were accompanied by a KC-767A tanker, a C-130J and a P-72A Maritime Patrol Aircraft, according to data collected from flight tracking websites.

Italy has made some significant work on the new jet: on Dec. 3, 2015, the ItAF welcomed the first F-35 at the Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility at Cameri, in northwestern Italy. That aircraft was also the first assembled and delivered outside the U.S.

On Feb. 5, 2016 the first Italian Air Force F-35, successfully completed the type’s very first transatlantic crossing landing at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. To prepare for the 7-hour transoceanic flight the Italian Air Force conducted tanker trials in the U.S. (in July 2015) with its KC-767A, that became the first tanker not operated by the U.S. Air Force to undergo refueling certification trials with an F-35.

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. In March 2018, the service has achieved an IOC (Initial Operational Capability) 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 (a similar configuration will be probably used for QRA shifts in Iceland – let’s not forget the missions flown in support of NATO air policing usually requires the fighters to be scrambled and perform Visual Identifications on unidentified aircraft carrying live air-to-air missiles – something the F-35 can certainly carry out although it’s not a “pure” interceptor). The IOC was declared on Nov. 30, 2018, during the media day of TLP 18-4. The deployment on a NATO mission is one of the steps to achieve the FOC (Final Operational Capability).

Stefano D’Urso has contributed to this post.


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.