The Italian F-35 aircraft, on their way back from Iceland, landed at RAF Marham for the very first time.
A C-130 Hercules and three F-35A aircraft belonging to the the Italian Air Force landed at RAF Marham on Jul. 21, 2020. The small Italian contingent visited the British base on their way back from the deployment in support of NATO Icelandic Air Policing in Keflavik, Iceland.
The three Italian F-35As, MM7336/32-05, MM7357/32-07 and MM7361/32-11, joined F-35Bs from 617 Squadron along with F-15s from RAF Lakenheath and a NATO E-3 and took part in an Interoperability Mission over the North Sea to refine Fighter Integration tactics between 4th and 5th generation air power.
RAF Marham’s Acting Station Commander, Wg Cdr Scott Williams said; “It was fantastic to welcome aircraft and personnel from the Italian Air Force to RAF Marham this week, and to conduct a training exercise with them in UK skies. Over the past few weeks our F-35B Lightnings have conducted a number of Exercises with our NATO partners, which has been a great opportunity to demonstrate the interoperability between the different platforms and further enhance both our enduring defensive partnership and wider NATO interests.”
The very short deployment (the Italians departed for their homebase, in the afternoon on Jul. 22) was quite similar to the one that saw 617 Sqn F-35Bs visit Italy last year: as we reported in detail back then, on Jul. 1, 2019, two British F-35B jets landed at Amendola AB, in southeastern Italy, on their way back to RAF Marham, UK from Operation “Lightning Dawn”, the Squadron’s first overseas deployment. On the following day, the F-35Bs took part in a joint mission with the Italians, the first time ever the Italian and British stealth jets flew together and “talked” one another thanks to 5th generation jet’s MADL (Multi-function Advanced Data Link).
Dealing with the Italians, the F-35A of the 32° Stormo (Wing) have just successfully completed their second tour of duty in support of NATO’s Icelandic Air Policing mission, dubbed Operation Northern Lighting II.
As explained during a “Virtual Press Tour” of the Italian detachment we attended on Jul. 8, 2020, on a rotational basis, three times a year, allied nations contribute, for three or four weeks, to the Interim Air Policing in Iceland, a country that does not have autonomous air defence assets and capabilities but is strategically located close to the Arctic. For the second time since October, the sixth in total since 2013, the ItAF has secured the skies over Iceland, supporting NATO’s Airborne Surveillance and Interception Capabilities to meet Iceland’s Peacetime Preparedness Needs (ASIC IPPN) mission. The purpose of the NATO mission, initiated in 2008, after the withdrawal of US forces from the island, is to provide air surveillance and interception coverage over Iceland, in order to maintain the integrity of the NATO airspace. According to the Italian Air Force, the deployment under NATO command and control is one of the milestones on the road to the FOC of its “omnirole” aircraft.
The F-35s provided peacetime QRA-I (Quick Reaction Alert – Intercept) readiness with at least two aircraft armed with two live AIM-120C5 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) missiles in the internal weapons bay. This is the same SCL (Standard Conventional Load) used at home to carry out QRA shift as part of the so-called SSSA (Servizio Sorveglianza Spazio Aereo – Air Space Surveillance Service) that the Lightning are called provide, if needed, on a rotation basis, since the day the F-35 achieved an IOC (Initial Operational Capability) in the air-to-air role in March 2018.
On Jul. 3, 2020, the F-35s in QRA-I at Keflavik launched the first ever A-Scramble (Alert-Scramble) for the Italian Air Force F-35A Lightning II fleet to monitor three Tu-142 Bear F/J in international airspace south of Iceland. Noteworthy, a second pair of F-35A jets was then scrambled to establish a CAP (Combat Air Patrol) and monitor the activity of the Russian ASW aircraft on their way back. Responding to our question in video conference during the “Virtual Press Tour” Colonel Michele Cesario, Commander of the Italian F-35 detachment in Iceland, said that the availability of six airframes allowed the Italians to keep four jets in readiness for QRA purposes, with the remaining two available to carry out local training missions.