Italian Carrier Strike Group Arrives In Singapore As Part Of Indo-Pacific Operational Campaign

Cavour Indo Pacific
The ITS Cavour is refueled by the logistics ship Vulcano simultaneously with the Caio Duilio destroyer. (Image credit: Italian Navy)

The ITS Cavour left its port earlier this month for a five-month cruise that will allow the aircraft carrier to work with multiple regional partners in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Italian Navy quietly deployed, without much fanfare, its Carrier Strike Group (CSG) to the Indo-Pacific region earlier this month. Today, the service announced the arrival in Singapore for a logistic stop of the 31st Naval Group, as the core of the CSG made of the ITS Cavour and the ITS Alpino FREMM frigate has been called.

Both ships left their home port in Taranto on Jun. 1, 2024, shortly after the end of the multi-domain Mare Aperto 2024 exercise which also granted the operational certification of the CSG and its air component. The Italian Ministry of Defense  and Navy didn’t release official statements or details about the deployment, however Naval News reported that the cruise should last five months and see the carrier visiting 10 countries.

Naval News also reported a statement from the Italian Navy Chief of Staff Admiral Enrico Credendino, who mentioned the deployment in the Indo-Pacific region while attending the Conference Navale de Paris.

“The (Cavour) Carrier Strike Group is the most versatile and flexible tool to project power and influence on a global scale, offering a wide range of options of intervention to the political decision maker. Today is also fundamental to control the sea and to keep the sea line of communications open. The CSG is also an instrument of reassurance for the alliance and deterrence to the enemy. The acquisition for Italian Navy of the 5th generation aircraft is a step more in the Italian defence capabilities. We will reach IOC (initial operating capability) during our deployment in the Indo-Pacific region and this would be a really important step. This will allow us to work more and more with our allies. These will allow us to be more interoperable and interchangeable with our allies and to intervene wherever is needed anytime.”

31st Naval Group and the CSG

The Carrier Strike Group, as we mentioned, has its core composed of the 31st Naval Group, which includes the ITS Cavour and the ITS Alpino. The two ships will be joined during the cruise by allied ships which will be integrated in the CSG, with composition changing over time.

The flagship of Marina Militare (Italian Navy), the ITS Cavour is configured for STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) operations, with six spots for simultaneous operations and eight spots on the flight deck. The hangar has enough space for 12 helicopters or eight fighters or a combination of both.

Launched in 2004, the 27,000 tons ship later completed maintenance and modernization works required to accommodate and operate the F-35B Lightning II. The 5th gen aircraft is gradually replacing the older AV-8B+ Harrier II, with both types assigned to the same squadron, the GRUPAER Lupi (Italian for “Wolves”).

The ITS Alpino is a FREMM (European Multi-Mission Frigate), part of a Franco-Italian programme which resulted in the Bergamini class for Italy and the Aquitaine class for France. Alpino is specifically configured for ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) roles, although it still retains extended AAW (Anti-Air Warfare) capabilities.

Components of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Group (IKECSG), Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) and Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Laboon (DDG 58) and USS Gravely (DDG 107), steam in formation with the Italian aircraft carrier ITS Cavour (CVH 550), the Carlo Bergamini-class frigate ITS Alpino (F 594), and the Horizon-class frigate FS Forbin (D 620) in the Red Sea, June 7. The IKECSG is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations to support maritime stability and security in the Middle East region. (Official Italian Navy photo)

Shortly after leaving port, the CSG was joined by the Spanish frigate Numancia and the French frigate Aconit, as part of the EUROMARFOR (European Maritime Force), of which ITS Cavour is the flagship. The group later operated with the French Somme replenishment ship, and the Greek frigate Themistocles and fast attack boat of the Vlachakos Roussen-class as part of the NATO SNMG2 (Standing NATO Maritime Group 2).

After leaving the Mediterranean Sea, the CSG integrated in the Red Sea with the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier, the USS Laboon and USS Gravely destroyers  and the French destroyer Forbin. The ships conducted a PHOTEX (Photo Exercise) in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations, before the Italian ships resumed their navigation.

The CSG is also expected to meet the Italian training ship Amerigo Vespucci, currently involved in a world tour, in Japan and the Raimondo Montecuccoli PPA patrol ship.

The deployment

This operational campaign is expected to evaluate and qualify the capabilities of the air component, with the F-35B reaching the Initial Operational Capability by the end of the deployment. After navigating through the Indian Ocean, the CSG will reach Australia for one of the main events of the campaign, the biennial Pitch Black exercise.

The 2024 edition, slated to run from Jul. 12 to Aug. 2, is expected to be the largest in the exercise’s 43-year history. In fact, it will see the participation of 21 international participants and over 140 aircraft from around the world, with approximately 4435 personnel participating.

The Italian CSG of the Navy will also be joined for the occasion by the Air Force. In fact, the Aeronautica Militare Chief of Staff, Gen. Luca Goretti, said in an interview last year the ItAF will deploy almost 25 jets to Australia for exercise Pitch Black, including Eurofighter F-2000s, F-35As and F-35Bs in cooperation with the Italian Navy.

Thanks to the increased cooperation with the Navy, the F-35Bs of both services will fly together from the ITS Cavour aircraft carrier to take part in the exercise, similarly to what they already did in multiple occasion during training in the Mediterranean Sea. This will also be an occasion to check the issues and the preparation required to fly non-stop from Europe to the Indo-Pacific if necessary.

The CSG is expected to operate in the region for a total of two months, visiting Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and other countries in South-East Asia, India and the Middle East, before returning in Italy in November.

The Cavour air wing

Given the absence of official details about the operational campaign, we can’t have a complete idea of what is the composition of the ITS Cavour’s carrier air wing. The air component is made of a mix of AV-8B+ and F-35B fighter jets, as well as a mix of NH90 and EH101 helicopters.

The photos published so far, specifically a photo of the ship leaving the port, a photo from the NATO SNMG2 and the photos from the PHOTEX in the Red Sea show four F-35B and six Harriers on board, including the twin seater TAV-8B. Helicopters were not immediately visible, with at least one NH90 and one EH101 recognizable on deck, but others should be expected in the hangars.

At least another helicopter should be expected on the ITS Alpino, which is capable of embarking two helicopters in its hangars and flight deck. Also, since Air Force and Navy F-35Bs are planned to operate together during Exercise Pitch Black, the Air Force fighters are expected to be integrated in the carrier air wing with their Navy counterparts.

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.