Tag Archives: Operation Unified Protector

The Italian Air Force Predator A+ Drones Appear With Brand New Markings At New Squadron Activation Ceremony

The Italian Air Force Predator A+ of the 32° Stormo (Wing) appear with new markings.

On Jul. 10, the Italian Air Force announced the reactivation of the 61° Gruppo (Squadron), disbanded in 1943, at Sigonella airbase, in Sicily, that will operate the MQ-1C Predator A+ UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) as a detached unit of the 32° Stormo, headquartered at Amendola, southeastern Italy.

The drones, piloted by aircrews coming from the 28° Gruppo and supported by ground crews of the 41° Stormo, based at Sigonella, will reinforce the Italian surveillance capabilities in southern Italy.

The new squadron will complement the other squadron of the 32nd Wing, the 28° Gruppo also based at Amendola, that already operates a mixed force of MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-1C Predator A+ drones that are used to undertake a wide variety of tasks: along with the standard ISR (intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) missions, the Italian Predators have supported MEDEVACs (Medical Evacuations), TIC (Troops In Contact) operations, IED (Improvised Explosive Devices) monitoring, Convoy Escort in Iraq and Afghanistan; they have supported Operation Unified Protector in Libya, Mare Nostrum operation in the Mediterranean Sea near Lampedusa (where they have monitored the migratory flows and consequent tragic ship wreckage off the island) and, from Djibouti, have monitored the seas off the coast of Somalia in anti-piracy missions. They are also currently deployed in Kuwait to support the US-led anti-ISIS operation in Syria and Iraq. Leveraging their persistence on the target area, the drones have also supported Police forces during major events.

Noteworthy, the photos of the 61° Gruppo reactivation ceremony posted by the Italian Air Force on social media exposed an interesting detail.

Indeed, for the very first time, the Predators belonging to the 32° Stormo appear to sport the standard Wing’s livery that includes the aircraft code 32-xx on the fuselage and the Wing’s emblem, the Hawk, on the the tails.

One of the Italian MQ-1C Predator A+ drones sporting the individual code 32-33.

With the addition of the new markings, the Predators of the 61° and 28 ° Gruppo will now feature the same kind of markings worn by the F-35A Lightning II aircraft of the 13° Gruppo of the 32° Stormo, Italy’s first JSF squadron that has recently celebrated its 100th anniversary (with special tail markings.)

Close up view of the Hawk applied to the tails of the Predator.

Image credit: ItAF

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Egypt and UAE Air Force jets behind mysterious airstrikes on Islamist militias in Libya

UAE and Egypt Air Force jets have conducted the mysterious series of airstrikes in Libya, a U.S. officials said earlier today.

The mysterious airstrikes that have hit Islamist militias in Tripoli at least twice during the last week were carried out by Egypt and United Arab Emirates warplanes.

This is what U.S. officials said, according to the New York Times.

Interestingly, the airstrikes were not coordinated with the U.S.: Washington was not even informed about the raids, even though some American planes have operated over Tripoli, supporting the recent evacuation of the US Embassy as well as performing surveillance missions in the area.

It looks like the aircraft (or most of them) launched from Egyptian airbases (although Cairo has always denied a direct involvement in Libya) with UAE Air Force providing aircrews, attack planes and aerial refuelers.

The first airstrikes hit various Islamist militias positions in Tripoli including an ammo depot. A second round of strikes concentrated in the southern part of the city where vehicles and rocket launchers were bombed.

Libyan authorities were unable to establish which was behind the mysterious airstrikes even if some debris, including a fin of the guidance kit for Mk 82s, pointed towards air forces equipped with aircraft capable to drop GBU-12 Paveway II 500-pound laser-guided bombs.

Now, American officials have unveiled the U.S. has collected enough evidence to determine UAE planes carried out the attacks.

Interestingly, UAE Air Force jets have already bombed Libya during 2011 Air War, when F-16s usually armed with 2 GBU-12s, 4 AIM-120 AMRAAMs and SNIPER pod (along with Mirage 2000s) took part in NATO’s Operation Unified Protector.

The airstrikes have failed to prevent militias from gaining control of Tripoli airport.

Image via anonymous source

Drones may already be flying over Libya hunting insurgents who attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi

Even if, citing U.S. officials, the CNN has just reported that unmanned aerial vehicles will begin flying over Benghazi in the next few days, American drones may already be flying surveillances flights over eastern Libya following the attack at the U.S. consulate where Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed by anti-U.S. mob.

The U.S. Air Force drones can be particularly useful to discover jihadi encampments and targets that may be tied to the attack to the Benghazi consulate.

CNN’s Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr reported that the proposal for use of drones could be approved shortly by the DoD and the White House, however, ISR (intelligence surveillance reconnaissance) have continued to take place over Northern Africa, where U.S. spyplanes, most probably looking for terrorists camps and smuggled weapons travelling towards Egypt, have been reported (and spotted) months after Operation Unified Protector had ended.

Since the first drones to operate in the Libyan airspace during 2011’s Air War were the U.S. RQ-4Bs belonging to the 9th Operations Group/Detachment 4th of the US Air Force, based at Naval Air Station Sigonella, in Sicily, the main operating base of the NATO Air Ground Surveillance Global Hawk program, it is quite likely that, if not already flying high-altitude surveillance flights over eastern Libya, these will be the first UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) to seek and hunt insurgents.

Unless, the Pentagon decides to attack them once detected (instead of leaving them to the Libyan forces), as it happens in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen: in this case, the unarmed Global Hawks will have to be supported/replaced by weaponized Predator or Reaper drones like those that have already operated in Libya (taking part to the operation that led to the capture and death of Gaddafi).

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

Italy's Reaper drones to be "weaponized"

Although it could take a year or more to complete the process, Italy’s Reaper drones could soon be given the official go ahead to procure the Hellfire missiles and laser guided bombs that Rome has requested since the first MQ-9 drone was delivered to the Italian Air Force last year.

According to a WSJ article, the Obama administration has already given Congress a notification of a proposed sale of six kits needed to arm Italy’s fleet of Predator B (MQ-9 Reaper) drones and a formal notification should follow as soon as this week.

Even if the sale could still be blocked (as it could open the door for similar sales to other allies, making foreign sales of drone technologies, more difficult to control), a stop is unlikely, according to lawmakers and others familiar with the matter that talked to the WSJ, meaning that Italy will be, besides UK, the only other U.S. ally to fly armed drones in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The Italian Air Force has ordered six Reapers to be used in surveillance tasks in both Homeland Security and Expeditionary scenarios. The first two Reaper UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System) took part in Operation Unified Protector in Libya while the remaining four will be delivered by the end of 2012.

The Reaper is more capable than its predecessor Predator A (four of those are currently flying in support of ISAF in Afghanistan, after serving in Iraq): it carries a Multi-spectral Targeting System (MTS-B), that is a suite of sensors integrating an infrared sensor, a color/monochrome daylight TV camera, and laser designator and illuminator. It is also equipped with the Lynx IIE Synthetic Aperture Radar although the system will be implemented with the impending required software upgrade.

The U.S. Reapers can be armed with both AGM-114 Hellfire anti-armour missiles and GBU-12/38/49 laser-guided and GPS-guided PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions) that could be important to protect Italian and NATO troops operating on the ground.

“On several occasions, if we had armed drones we would have saved human lives” said an Italian drone pilot during a media briefing in June 2011.

Italy has about 4,200 military in Afghanistan, most of which in the western part of the country.

"You are cleared to the scrap yard": Italy's leased combat-proven F-16s returned to the U.S. to be cockooned again.

Updated May 18, 2012 17.00 GMT

On May 8, eight of the remaining U.S. F-16 fighter jets leased by the Italian Air Force to strengthen Italy’s air defense until the full maturity of the Eurofighter Typhoon made a stopover at Lajes Field, Azores, on their way back to the U.S.

The aircraft had departed from Trapani, in Sicily, and headed towards North America as “Retro 31”, a flight of six “Vipers” (as the F-16 is nicknamed in the fighter pilots community) accompanied by a 22ARW KC-135R tanker and a supporting Italian C-130.

The remaining two planes, used as spares and arriving via Monte Real near Leiria, in the western coast of mainland Portogallo, returned to Trapani where they will remain with the past 8 ones for a few more weeks, until the Italian Air Force officially retires the type on May 25.

Miguel Santos, a retired PoAF Lt.Col. and an aircraft spotter and photographer who lives in Terceira island, Azores, took the following interesting images.

Image credit: Miguel Santos

The Italian Vipers, were returned to the to Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, where the aircraft will be kept in storage by the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG)  at the local “Boneyard”.

Efficient, combat proven planes, once again cocooned, in a scrap yard.

Under Peace Caesar program, the Italian Air Force purchased a total 45,000 flying hours between 2004 and 2010 (then extended to 47,000 until the first half of 2012), with all the necessary logistic support, of a fleet composed by 30 F-16A Block 15 ADF (Air Defense Fighter) upgraded with the “Falcon Up” and “Falcon 2020” modifications, 3 F-16B Block 10 OCU (Operational Capabilities Upgrade) and a single F-16B ADF. Another 4 twin seats airframes would have been delivered to the ItAF to be cannibalized for spare parts.

The first batch of F-16s were returned to the U.S. in 2010.

During the recent air war in Libya, the Italian F-16ADF of the 18° Gruppo flew more than 1,559 flying hours and 348 missions since the early stages of US-coordinated Operation Odyssey Dawn begun on Mar. 19, 2011.

Flying also in a “heavy” configuration, that included two drop tanks, four AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles) and two AIM-9L Sidewinders, the Squadron’s “Vipers” escorted the first Italian SEAD packages inside the Libyan airspace. With the beginning of NATO’s Operation Unified Protector at 06.00GMT on Mar. 31, 2011 and until the end of the air campaign at 23.59 GMT on Oct. 31, 2011, the Italian F-16s, alongside all the other Italian Air Force assets under the Task Group Air “Birgi”, flew air defense and combat air patrol missions required to enforce the No-Fly Zone over Libya and to ensure the air superiority needed to successfully accomplish the assigned mission.

Furthermore, in connection with the Libyan crisis, the 18th Squadron ensured the Quick Reaction Alert service at an heightened level of readiness with F-16s ready to take off in few minutes in order to intercept and face any suspicious aircraft.