Tag Archives: 28 Gruppo

Behind the Scenes: What It's Like Inside a Predator Drone Control Station

Once closely guarded military secrets, remotely operated Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) are now widely known to play a vital role in modern wars. But even while most people recognize that UAS are extremely important, they usually don’t know how they are controlled and by whom.

TechNewsDaily was recently invited to take a rare behind-the-scenes tour of a UAS ground control station in Italy that is jointly shared by the Italian and U.S. air forces to demystify some of the operations of these robot warrior aircraft.

A new breed of fighters

UAS are able to silently fly for 20 or more hours deep inside enemy territory; can carry a wide array of sensors, radars and even weapons to identify or attack time-sensitive targets; and, above all, they are “expendable” because they are controlled from a remote Ground Control Station by pilots who fly them in the same way you might fly a virtual plane in a flight simulator game.

Drones have been supporting ground troops, helping them to identify suspect activity and to prevent IED (Improvised Explosive Device) attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan for years. More recently, they were dispatched to attack Gaddafi forces in Libya, and also played a vital role in Operation Neptune’s Spear in Pakistan, where they helped monitor Osama bin Laden’s compound prior to the Navy Seals raid that resulted in the al-Qaida leader’s death.

A UAS consists of four main components: the remotely piloted vehicle (RPV), its sensors, its Mobile Ground Control Station (MGCS), and its data link and communication suite. That’s why the term UAS, which describes the whole system, is preferred to UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle).

There are several types of remotely piloted vehicles in operation, but with a combat debut dating back to the ‘90s in the Balkans, and several years of operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and Libya, the General Atomics Predator has become the primary and most famous U.S. unmanned platform.

Other nations have recognized the importance of the UAS as well. Among them, Italy used its first RQ-1A Predators in Iraq from 2004 to 2006 and later deployed them in Afghanistan, where they have logged more than 7,000 hours of flight since 2007. The Italian Air Force (ItAF) is also equipped with the first two of six ordered examples of the most advanced Predator B (known as the MQ-9 “Reaper” in the U.S.), which has an improved internal and external payload, is able to fly at higher altitudes and could soon be used to boost NATO ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) capabilities in Libya.


In order to understand how Predators operate, we visited the MGCS located at the Amendola airbase in southeast Italy. The Amendola airbase is home to the 28 Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32 Stormo (Wing), which manages the entire Italian UAS force and remotely controls drones of the Task Group “Astore” performing ISR missions, convoy escorts, and special operations in Afghanistan. The technologies and procedures used by the ItAF and USAF are very similar, with the main difference being Italian Predators don’t currently carry missiles or bombs.

The aircraft operates with clear line-of-sight to the ground data terminal antenna, while over-the-horizon communication is achieved via satellite link. Both control modes can be used during the same mission.


[Read the rest of my article (with picture gallery) on Tech News Daily]

Italy is ready to use the new Predator B (MQ-9 Reaper) drones in Libya to improve NATO ISR capabilities

On Jun. 28, 2011, the ItAF officially presented its first two of 6 Predator B (MQ-9 Reaper) during an interesting ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) Media Tour at Amendola, Italy’s UAV Main Operating Base (MOB).

During its initial briefing, Col. Fabio Giunchi, Cdr of the 32° Stormo (Wing), the parent unit of the 28° Gruppo (Sqn) which flies the Italian drones, affirmed that Italy’s has already achieved an IOC (Initial Operational Capability) with the Predator B and could employ it, if needed, in Libya, to strengthen the NATO ISR component by mid July.

According to Col. Giunchi, operating from Amendola, the UAS could reach Libya in 3 flying hours, with an “on station” time of about 12-14 hours.

The Italian new UAVs could soon be armed even if the final decision whether to equip the MQ-9 for instance with Hellfire missiles will have to be taken at political level. Joint commands have already agreed that, having the capability, the UAS (Unmmanned Aerial Systems) should carry weapons that “could help saving lives”, Giunchi says.

In the meanwhile, the Predator A+ have just logged more than 7.000 FH in theatre operating from Herat in missions lasting on average 8-9 hours. Two RQ-1 are currently in Afghanistan, while two are at Amendola airbase. Unfortunately, one of them crashed landed at 09.15Z on Jun. 27 on approach to Herat airbase.  Extent of damages to be evaluated.

A more detailed article about the Amendola Media Tour and about the Italian ISR component (Tornado and AMX comprised) will be soon published on this blog.


Inside the Predator Ground Control Station, Herat, Afghanistan

Predator UAVs have often been the subject of articles published on this site as drones are some of the emerging technologies of the modern battlefield. Recently, the Aeronautica Militare opened the Ground Control Station (GCS) of the Predators currently deployed at Herat, in Afghanistan, to SKY TG24 that had the possibility to interview Maj. Lury Tupini, Commander of the Task Force Astore. Maj. Tupini gave to the reporter Pina Esposito an insight into the GCS, showing footage recorded by the Predator and explaining that crew required any time the UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) is keeping an area under surveillance is made of 4 military: a pilot, who’s responsible of the flight; a sensor operator, who moves the aircraft cameras and sensors; a mission monitor, who receives requests from “customers” and send them the required images; and a flight engineer, who checks the status of the aircraft by means of telemetry. There’s also a fifth person, an image expert, whose duty is literally “to explain what the aircraft is seeing”.
Low visibility, long persistence on the target and no-risk for the mission crew are those features that make the Predator the ideal asset to provide surveillance of high-lethality areas.

Click on the image below to watch the report.

The false problem of the armed Predators

On Sept. 18, 2010, Lt. Alessandro Romani of the Col. Moschin was killed by the Afghan insurgents in a shooting in the area to the East of Farah, Afghanistan. Lt. Romani was a member of the Italian Special Forces team of the Task Force 45 flying on board a CH-47. The Chinook, escorted by two A-129 Mangusta, was approaching the spot pointed out by a Predator of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) where some terrorists, that had just placed a bomb on a nearby road, had taken refuge. The chopper was landing when it was hit by some Kalashnikov shots that caused the death of the Italian officer.
In the aftermath of the shooting, some experts claimed that the use of armed Predators would prevent such accidents to occur: an article, written by an expert suggested that an MQ-1 equipped with Hellfire missiles would have saved Lt. Romani’s life. A direct hit into the terrorists refuge would made the Special Forces’ intervention unneeded. True, theoretically. False, if we analyse Italy’s attitude in Peace Keeping and Peace Enforcing operations. Italian forces, whose partecipation to such operations are usually strongly opposed by certain parties and are the cause of strong debate in the Parliament, have strict Rules Of Engagement, much more complicated than “Don’t fire until fired upon”. Historically, Italians are neither warmongers nor willing to use arms: for better or for worse, we tend to use diplomacy, to talk with the local people. The option of firing a couple of missiles from high altitude, from a UAV, towards some insurgents sheltered in a building, is simply something not in our DNA. What if the terrorist have hostages with them? What if the Italians cause “collateral damages”? Unacceptable for the public opinion in Italy, that still considers the Armed Forces a sort of burden, an unworthy cost, a diabolic means of destruction and war. Wisely, Italy decided to purchase only unarmed UAVs (even the MQ-9 Reaper will not carry missiles or bombs): cheaper and “safer”.
Hence, not even an armed Predator could save Lt. Romani’s life…….unless it was American.

The following images are courtesy of the Italian Air Force.

Shardan 2009: an Italian UAV flies from Amendola to Decimomannu

On Aug. 3, 2009, a General Atomics Predator A Unmanned Air Vehicle, belonging to the 28° Gruppo of the 32° Stormo of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF), was satellite-guided from its homebase in Amendola to Decimomannu, where it landed after 8 flight hours (actually there were two aircraft flying: IP05 and IP06). Operation “Shardan 2009” (lasting until Aug. 7) was aimed to test for the first time the possibility to remotely control the unmanned aircraft. So far both in Italy (where the aircraft was used for monitoring purposes during the recent G8 at L’Aquila) and in Afghanistan the Predator the aircraft has operated from the same base, taking off and landing from either Amendola or Herat (home of the ISAF Joint Air Task Force). With mission “Strega 01”, flown on Aug. 3, from Amendola to Decimomannu, Italy became the only European nation to have the capability to operate “remotely” UAVs like the Predator. This capability will be soon exploited to control the aircraft flying over Afghanistan directly from Italy.
A series of corridors have been drawn to interconnect Amendola with both Decimomannu, Sigonella and Trapani without interfering with the other traffic. However, in the near future, Italy expects also to freely fly new Predator B, that should be taken on charge by the end of this year, over the Mediterranean Sea, within the Italian airspace. The B version is capable of flying at FL500 above the other traffic, meaning that, at that altitude, it can cross the airspace between the Transit Corridors. The aircraft will be also used for for border and immigration control, anti-terrorism, event surveillance, etc.
Ugo Crisponi was in Decimomannu on Aug. 3 to observe the arrival of the Predator and took the following pictures of the event.

Below, the profile by Ugo Crisponi of AVIATIONGRAPHIC.COM, showing the Predator of the Italian Air Force.