The Italian Air Force 2022 Calendar Marks A Significant Change In The Service’s Communication Strategy.
On Oct. 7, 2021, the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) presented its 2022 calendar during an event attended by civil and military authorities as well as media representatives organized in a recently restored hangar at Urbe airport, in Rome, Italy. While the annual Italian Air Force calendar has a reputation for its choice of amazing photographs, the 2022 edition is much more interesting (at least to this Author) than usual: in order to show, “without hypocrisy”, the service’s most modern and advanced face, the new calendar features an F-35A in “Beast Mode” on the cover and 12 main shots (one for each month) of aircraft in “operational configuration”.
More in detail, F-35A Lightning, Eurofighter Typhoons, Tornado IDS and ECR, and also a T-346 (M-346 Master) are depicted carrying (inert) weapons in the 2022 calendar marking a first for the Italian Air Force: for various reasons, the Aeronautica Militare has always been rather cautious in showing only its peaceful face, highlighting the dual role of its fleet and the missions flown in support of the population, almost hiding the most realistic nature of its tasks.
The change in communication strategy found its most evident expression in the 2022 calendar where we can eventually find F-35s, plenty of bombs and swing-role Typhoons, three “taboo topics” until a few years ago. However, the switch was already underway. It all started with the slow acceptance of the Lockheed Martin’s 5th generation aircraft by the public opinion and the subsequent drop from the interests of those parties who had made of the fight against the American stealth aircraft one of the cornerstones of their political agenda.
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A step at a time, after years of ostracism, the Air Force became less “shy” of its most advanced aircraft and, between 2018 and 2019, the first significant details about the F-35 and its progress (including the Initial Operational Capability or the first deployment under NATO command) started to be released until, in 2020, the images of the ItAF F-35A and B flying together in Beast Mode for the first time were published on the Italian Air Force website. A pretty bold move considered the earlier “low profile” approach, that eventually led to the F-35 in Beast Mode (an Italian Beast Mode considered that the aircraft can’t carry any AAMs – Air to Air Missiles – on the outer pylons since the AIM-9X is not in inventory and the IRIS-T integration has not been requested) making the front cover of the 2022 calendar
The more relaxed atmosphere surrounding the program made it possible for the Aeronautica Militare to eventually publicly talk about the Typhoon as a multirole aircraft.
Unlike other partner nations that used the Typhoon for air interdiction missions quite soon, the Italian Air Force hadn’t initially planned to employ the Typhoon is the air-to-surface role, stubbornly claiming that the Eurofighter was just an air superiority fighter. In 2016, when the Italian Typhoons took part in their first Red Flag exercise, three of the Typhoons deployed at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, were Tranche 2 examples that embedded the P1E(B) upgrades and were loaded with the latest Software Release Package. The two T2 Typhoons carried also two inert GBU-16 Paveway II LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs) and the Litening targeting pod. At that time, the Italian Air Force claimed the Swing Role capability was being developed only to support the platform’s export capabilities and help the industry promoting the aircraft in particular regions (like Kuwait). Following the Red Flag participation, a team of experienced Eurofighter pilots was destined to the new role and those aircrews who were already dual role qualified took part in a TLP (Tactical Leadership Programme) course at Albacete flying the Swing Role mission. Little by little, the Italian Air Force continued to work on the “multirole evolution” of Typhoon that was also deployed to Kuwait in support of OIR (Operation Inherent Resolve) in Syria and Iraq, and eventually became more vocal about the swing-role capabilities of the Eurofighter, as proved by the official photographs of the Typhoons carrying the new GBU-48s released earlier this year.
In the end, the photos of the armed Italian aircraft (that are accompanied by many historical images and details of aircraft that preceded the birth of the service in 1923) are quite cool.
As already said, along with the F-35A in Beast Mode (that is not an official or technical term but just a common way an F-35 configuration involving both internal and external loads is dubbed) and the Typhoons with GBUs there are also other types in the 2022 calendar, including a Tornado IDS with GBU-32 JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) with a Tornado ECR carrying two AGM-88 HARMs; two T-346 advanced jet trainers including one with a CATM-9 (Captive Air Training Missile); an HH-101A Caesar in the new overall grey color scheme, two KC-767A tankers, a new HH-139B, an MQ-9A Predator B UAS (Unmanned Aerial System); a T-260A basic trainer; and a G550 CAEW.
We can’t but notice that the only significant missing one is the F-35B STOVL aircraft that was one of the highlights of the recent Rivolto airshow that celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Frecce Tricolori display team.
By the way, it’s worth remembering that also last year the calendar contained a gem: a rare photograph of the secretive YEC-27J JEDI (Jamming and Electronic Defense Instrumentation), the EW (Electronic Warfare) variant of the C-27J Spartan.