The first G550 AISREW (Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Electronic Warfare) has arrived in Italy.
Flying as IAM1494, the first of two G550 AISREW aircraft (MM62329/14-13) for the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) arrived at its new airbase, Pratica di Mare, near Rome, home of the 14° Stormo (Wing), on Mar. 7, 2022. The aircraft, departed from Dallas, Texas, could be tracked online throughout the delivery flight to Italy.
Interestingly, the aircraft sports full Italian Air Force markings, including a large emblem on the tail that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the 71° Gruppo (Squadron), the unit historically focused on SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) as well as EW (Electronic Warfare) of the Italian Air Force, that was officially re-activated at Pratica di Mare, on Mar. 1, 1972. The traditional low-viz badge of the 14° Stormo is also applied to the tail, although closer to the tail root.
The U.S. State Department made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to Italy of the Gulfstream G550 aircraft with AISREW Mission Systems and related equipment in December 2020. The company contracted to carry out the modification was L3Harris, the same that worked for the integration of the sensor suite aboard the King Air 350ER SPYDR used by the Italian Air Force as a gap filler in the SIGINT role (mainly in the Mediterranean area of operations).
According to the details made public by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) back then:
“The Government of Italy has requested to buy articles and services to support the integration of two (2) Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Electronic Warfare (AISREW) mission systems onto two (2) Italian Ministry of Defense provided G550 aircraft consisting of: four (4) Multifunctional Information Distribution Systems – Joint Tactical Radio System (MIDS JTRS) (2 installed, 2 spares); three (3) Embedded/GPS/INS (EGI) with GPS security devices, airborne (2 installed, 1 spare); and four (4) RIO™ Communications Intelligence Systems (2 installed, 2 spares). Also included are Missile Warning Sensors, AN/ALE-47 Countermeasure Dispenser Sets (CMDS), MX-20HD Electro-Optical and Infra-Red systems, Osprey 50 AESA Radars, AISREW ISR equipment, Secure Communications equipment, Identification Friend or Foe Systems, aircraft modification and integration, ground systems for data processing and crew training, ground support equipment, publications and technical data, U.S. Government and contractor engineering, technical and logistics support services, flight test and certification, and other related elements of logistical and program support. The total estimated program cost is $500 million.”
It looks like the new aircraft still lacks some of the external ‘lumps and bumps’ and other apertures already appearing on other special-mission Gulfstream G550s and destined to be integrated on the AISREW platform. Among these, the forward fuselage underside “canoe” fairing, one of the distinguishing features of the new aircraft, that should be used to host the Leonardo Osprey 50 AESA radar. Generally speaking, the “final” shape of the Italian AISREW aircraft should be similar to the one of the Australian MC-55 Peregrine, a SIGINT-configured G550 that L3Harris is providing to the Royal Australian Air Force and developed based on the experience of the EC-37 Compass Call II and other variants. It seems likely that all the modifications will be embedded at a later stage and the first airframe will be initially used for training purposes.
The MC-55, that is believed to be comparable to the USAF RC-135V Rivet Joint and RAF Airseeker R Mk.1 (RC-135W) in terms of capabilities, is also equipped with a bulbous rear tail cone fairing which houses an integrated electro-optical infrared (EO/IR) turret that might find its way to the Italian variant too.
Anyway, the new aircraft joins the other two G550 CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning) aircraft the 14th Wing has already operated for some years.
As we have already reported in detail in 2020, when the requirement for a new SIGINT aircraft emerged among those included in the Defense Policy Document for 2020-2022 (Documento Programmatico della Difesa 2020-2022). The requirement dated back to 2009, when the Ministry of Defense requested two JAMMS (Joint Airborne Multi-sensor Multi-mission System) aircraft to replace the single G-222VS (Versione Speciale – Special Version) that was equipped for SIGINT missions in the 1980s. The AISREW is the first of two JAMMS aircraft.
The Italian JAMMS program is structured in more tranches: the first one, worth 1.2B Euro, covers the acquisition of the first two Full Mission Capable (FMC) aircraft and six “green” airframes that can be converted at a later stage to either JAMMS or CAEW configurations, together with logistic and infrastructural support. In other words, the Italian Air Force plans to operate a fleet of ten special mission modified G550s (including the already operational CAEW aircraft, the just delivered AISREW and the second airframe that will follow).
Operating alongside the Conformal Airborne Early Warning (CAEW) aircraft, the mission of the new Gulfstream, whose designation is still unknown (supposedly E-550B or R-550), will be, based on the Italian MOD plans: the actualization of the national intelligence database, characterization of tactic intelligence targets, search for new targets of interest, survey of the operational environment of deployed forces, targeting process support, airborne early warning and electromagnetic surveillance and protection.
With the arrival of the AISREW, the SPYDR contract should come to an end, with the King Air 350 (both the mission-equipped aircraft and the other one used for training purposes) returned to L3Harris. The timeline is unknown at the moment, though.