Italian Air Force Deploys F-35s, Typhoons, CAEW and KC-767 To Eielson AFB For Red Flag

Italian Air Force Deploys To Red Flag
An F-2000A of the Italian Air Force lands at Joint Base Lewis McChord on its way to Alaska. (Photo: @MikeSwaja via X)

Six Typhoons, six F-35s, a KC-767, and a G550 CAEW will take part in the two-week exercise Red Flag-Alaska 24-1.

As we reported on the occasion of the Typhoon Flag 2024 exercise last month, the Italian Air Force is attending the upcoming Red Flag – Alaska 24-1 exercise. The exercise, slated to run from April 18 to May 3, 2024, at Eielson Air Force Base will see the Italian aircraft take part in the large force employment training event for the first time since 2010, when the service last deployed there for RF-A 10-3.

Thanks to flight tracking websites, photos, and artwork with all the participants, we were able to determine the composition of the Italian detachment which appears to be similar to the one deployed to Red Flag 20-2 at Nellis AFB:

  • Six F-2000As (as the single-seater Typhoons are designated in Italy in accordance to the MOD’s Mission Design Series) from the 4°, 36°, 37° and 51° Stormo (4-9, 4-66, 36-42, 36-47, 37-08, 51-56);
  • Six F-35As from the 6° and 32° Stormo (6-03, 6-04, 6-05, 6-06, 6-07, 32-16);
  • One KC-767A from the 14° Stormo;
  • One E-550A CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning) from the 14° Stormo.

The ferry flight to Alaska began on April 4 for the Typhoons and April 6 for the F-35, which arrived at Eielson on April 9 and 10, respectively. The flight, supported by all four KC-767s of the Italian Air Force, a C-130J in cargo role as well as two C-130Js and a P-72A MPA in oceanic SAR role, was divided into four legs, with fuel stops at Lajes Air Base (Azores, Portugal), Pease Air National Guard Base (New Hampshire), Joint Base Lewis-McChord (Washington) and then Eielson Air Force Base.

The reason for the early arrival in Alaska is the participation in the pre-exercise activities. One of these is the so-called “FAM Day”, or Familiarization Day, a heavy flying day that usually happens the Friday before the exercise starts to allow aircrews to familiarize with the local airspace and procedures, such as the departure and recovery routes.

Interestingly, the two KC-767 tankers which supported the Typhoons had their booms removed, as it can be seen in the photos taken by spotters as the aircraft landed for their fuel stops during the deployment flight to Alaska. Also, some of the Typhoons flew in a rarely seen configuration with three external fuel tanks, while others flew with their standard loadout of two external fuel tanks and a Litening targeting pod on the centerline station.

Italy is the only foreign nation taking part to RF-A 24-1. The other units involved belong to the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy:

  • 36th Fighter Squadron, Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, F-16CM Block 40;
  • 80th Fighter Squadron, Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, F-16CM Block 40;
  • Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 223, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, AV-8B;
  • Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 234, Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas, KC-130J;
  • Electromagnetic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 131, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, EA-18G.

Each of these units brings a precise mission set: multirole/swing-role missions, ground attack, Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses, aerial refueling, Airborne Early Warning – Battlefield Management, and Communication. In fact, each exercise is a joint/coalition, tactical air combat employment exercise that corresponds to the operational capability of participating units, whose mission may differ significantly from those of other participating units but complements them to bring all the required abilities needed to tackle modern scenarios.

The route followed by the Italian detachment during the deployment fight to Alaska. (Image via adsbexchange)

Red Flag – Alaska

On average, more than 1,000 people and up to 60 aircraft deploy to Eielson, and an additional 500 people and 40 aircraft deploy to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, for each Red Flag-Alaska exercise. Participants are organized into “Red” aggressor forces and “Blue” coalition forces, while “White” forces represent the neutral controlling agency.

The Red Force includes air-to-air fighters, ground-control intercept, and surface air defense forces to simulate threats posed by potentially hostile nations. These fighters, assigned to specialized units such as the 18th Aggressor Squadron, generally employ defensive counter-air tactics directed by ground-control intercept sites. Range threat emitters — electronic devices that send out signals simulating anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missile launches — provide valuable surface-to-air training and are operated by civilian contractors as directed by 353d Combat Training Squadron technicians. 

The Blue Force includes, as we mentioned, the full spectrum of U.S. and allied tactical and support units. Red Flag is devised as a way to give aircrews their first taste of warfare, where they can put to the test their training and tactics in highly realistic scenarios with common worldwide threats and simulated combat conditions. Because the Red and Blue forces meet in a simulated hostile, non-cooperative training environment, the job of controlling the mock war and ensuring safety falls to the White neutral force.

During the two-week employment phase of the exercise, aircrews are subjected to every conceivable combat threat. Scenarios are shaped to meet each exercise’s specific training objectives. At the height of the exercise, up to 70 jet fighters can be operating in the same airspace at one time. Typically, Red Flag – Alaska conducts two combat training missions each day, one in the morning and one in the evening.


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Un post condiviso da Melaine Valentin (@planeoldart)

A big thank you to Fabio Zarantonello for providing us additional details about the deployment of the Italian assets to Alaska.

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.