U.S. Air Force F-16s Integrate With Italian Air Force F-35s During Agile Combat Employment Exercise

Two U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned to the 31st Fighter Wing return from offensive counter air training with two Italian air force F-35 Lightning II assigned to the 32° Stormo during an Agile Combat Employment (ACE) exercise at Amendola Air Base, Italy, Feb. 17, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ericka A. Woolever)

Agile Combat Employment exercise at Amendola Air Base, saw U.S. Air Force F-16s operate alongside the Italian Air Force F-35s.

U.S. Air Force F-16s belonging to the 555th and 510th Fighter Squadrons of the 31st Fighter Wing, based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, took part in an Agile Combat Employment exercise at Amendola AB, Italy, on Feb. 16-17, 2021.

Amendola, in southeastern Italy, is the first European F-35 base. The airbase is home to the Italian Air Force’s 13° Gruppo (Squadron), a child unit of the 32° Stormo (Wing), that has been the first European F-35 unit to achieve the IOC (Initial Operational Capability) in November 2018 as well as the first to deploy under NATO command in support of Icelandic Air Policing in 2019.

During the ACE exercise, 8x F-16s from the 31st FW, two U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotankers from the 100th Air Refueling Wing, Royal Air Force Mildenhall, UK, integrated with 6x Italian Air Force F-35As and 6x Eurofighter Typhoons.

Interestingly, the F-16s could be tracked online as they deployed to Amendola for the 2-day exercise:

A screenshot of ADSBExchange.com showing the Aviano F-16s approaching Amendola on their way to ACE exercise on Feb. 16, 2021. (Image credit: ADSBExchange via Juri Badalini)

The areas where the joint missions operated were both located over the Adriatic Sea (where the famous “Speedy Area” – one of the restricted airspaces used on a daily basis by the Aviano’s F-16s – is located) and also in the military areas over the Ionian Sea:

At least a part of the flying activity on Feb. 17 could also be tracked online, thanks to the F-16s’ Mode-S transponders.

ACE is a concept that envisions the use of agile operations to generate resilient airpower in a contested environment. This means dispersing forces across different or remote airports and support their operations with fewer specialists, to ensure that the U.S Air Forces in Europe are ready for potential contingencies by allowing forces to operate from locations with varying levels of capacity and support. The purpose is “to become more agile in our execution, more strategic in our deterrence, and more resilient in our capability. Agility, Deterrence, and Resiliency are essential to defense and operational capability in a contested environment,” the U.S. Air Force in Europe website says when explaining the ACE Concept of Operations.

“European partners form the backbone of USAFE’s Agile Combat Employment exercise,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Eric Broyles, 31st Operations Group international coordination director and F-16 evaluator pilot in a public release. “Mission success is reliant not only on our partner’s infrastructure, but strengthening our vision, tactical integration, and building relationships which are cultivated in exercises such as these.”

By integrating multiple aircraft, aircrews were able to train for different objectives, which is critical to ensuring the collective defense of the NATO alliance.

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.