Six F-35A jets will operate from Keflavik for one month as part of Operation “Northern Lightning II”.
The Italian Air Force is deploying its F-35A 5th generation aircraft in Iceland for the second time in less than a year. The Task Force Air 32nd Wing will operate from Keflavik International Airport (KIA) from mid-June to mid-July 2020 as part of Operation “Northern Lightning II”, the Italian contribution to NATO’s Interim Air Policing mission “Airborne Surveillance and Interception Capabilities to meet Iceland’s Peacetime Preparedness Needs (ASIC-IPPN)”, more commonly known as Icelandic Air Policing. The mission will be performed with the cooperation of the controllers at the NATO Combined Air Operations Center in Uedem, Germany.
The six jets and 135 airmen were expected to deploy in Iceland in April after the end of the Norwegian F-35 deployment, however due to the COVID-19 pandemic the deployment was postponed. According to the Icelandic Coast Guard and the Italian Ministry of Defense, as a precaution the Italian personnel will undergo a 14-days quarantine, medical examination and screening before the deployment, most probably at Amendola Air Base (the Italian F-35 Main Operating Base) and another 14-days quarantine after arriving in Iceland.
Italian Air Force 🇮🇹 – Boeing KC-767A – #IAM1431
Routing To Keflavik 🇮🇸 With 3 x F-35A In Tow. pic.twitter.com/iC2vzsBIGp
— Freedar.uk (@freedar_uk) June 8, 2020
At least three F-35s of the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing) are already enroute to Keflavik supported by a KC-767A tanker and a C-130J that were visible on ADS-B flight tracking websites. As last year, it is safe to assume that the F-35s were also supported by a P-72A Maritime Patrol Aircraft which act as Oceanic Search and Rescue support.
During last year’s mission, our Editor David Cenciotti had the opportunity to visit the Italian detachment in Iceland and take some great photographs. Here is what he wrote about the first F-35 Icelandic Air Policing mission (the same applies to the new mission):
During their stay in the Arctic region, the F-35s performed 20 T-Scrambles (Training Scrambles) and flew 150 FH (Flight Hours) with an efficiency of the aircraft close to 100 percent.
The Italian F-35s carry out the QRA service in Iceland with the same configuration used to support the domestic SSSA (Servizio Sorveglianza Spazio Aereo – Air Space Surveillance Service) on a rotational basis, where the SCL (Standard Conventional Load) includes two AIM-120C5 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) missiles in the internal weapons bay.
Given its unique strategic geographical location near the Arctic region and since Iceland doesn’t have the necessary capability of its own, NATO Allies, in conjunction with the Icelandic authorities, have agreed to maintain a periodic presence of NATO fighter aircraft at Keflavik to help keep Icelandic airspace safe and secure. The mission is carried out by fighter aircraft from Allied nations that typically deploy to KIA (Keflavik International Airport) for rotations lasting around three to four weeks, three times a year.
One may wonder why the F-35, that is not a “pure” interceptor, is committed to such an air defense mission. Well, the reason is quite simple: deploying the 5th gen. stealth aircraft under NATO command allows the service (in this case, the Italian Air Force) to test the asset as part of a different chain of command, with different procedures, on a different base, and in different (sometimes adverse/austere) weather conditions. The peacetime air policing mission requires the aircraft in QRA to scramble with live air-to-air missiles when there is the need to intercept, identify and escort, aircraft approaching or “skirting” NATO Ally’s sovereign airspace: a task that an F-35 is more than able to conduct. Moreover, the deployment on a NATO mission is one of the milestones the Italian Air Force has set along the path to achieve the type’s FOC ( BTW, it’s worth remembering that, first in Europe, the Italians declared the F-35’s IOC on Nov. 30, 2018).