One of the last Italian tactical aircraft to wear a “camo” scheme is this Tornado ECR used by Leonardo for testing activities.
Taken by our contributor Alessandro Caglieri at Decimomannu airbase recently, the photo in this post shows a really rare aircraft: most probably (as there is someone who believes there might be another one, an IDS, not in airworthy conditions though) the only Italian Tornado still wearing a camouflage livery.
The aircraft, an ECR with serial MM7079, operated by Leonardo company, has deployed to “Deci”, where the Italian aerospace industry maintains a permanent detachment, to undertake some unknown tests on Mar. 15, 2017.
As almost all the NATO combat planes (special colors aside) have turned to overall grey low visibility color schemes, the cool, flamboyant and old fashioned camouflaged liveries have become a rarity…
Less than two months before the failed coup, the Turkish Air Force hosted its traditional medium-scale high-tech exercise at Konya airbase, in Anatolia.
Held at Konya, in central Anatolia, south of Ankara, Turkey, Exercise Anatolian Eagle, is a very well-known series of exercises hosted by the Turkish Air Force three times a year (with one edition open to allied air forces) and attended each year by several foreign air arms. It is inspired by the U.S. Red Flag and Maple Flag series, the aim of which is to train fighter pilots for the first few days of a modern conflict.
The exercise provides the participating Turkish and foreign nations air forces an interesting opportunity to perform joint combat training in real-world scenarios that include Combined Air Operations (COMAOs) on tactical and strategic targets defended by Aggressors aircraft and Surface to Air Missile (SAM) threats of all types.
The latest AE took place between May 24 and Jun. 9 and saw the involvement of about 55 Turkish combat planes, including F-16C/Ds from the 132, 141, 151, 152, 161, 162, 182 and 191 Filo (Squadron) and 8 F-4E-2020 Phantoms belonging to the 111 Filo; as well as 6 Tornado (IDS and ECR) of the Italian Air Force, six F-16AM/BM of the 11 Squadron “Arrows” of the Pakistani Air Force, a unit with a multi-role task that serves also as the Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) of the Viper; and 8 Tornado IDSs from the RSAF (Royal Saudi Air Force) 11 Wing.
The focus of the latest edition of AE was dynamic and time-sensitive targeting, as well as close-air support missions, types of missions that are part of the ATOs (Air Tasking Orders) of most of the real combat operations conducted by all the participating air forces: the TuAF against the Kurdish PKK separatists, the Saudi against Houthi rebels in Yemen and the Pakistani against militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, whereas the Italians support Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS (previously with the Tornado IDSs and currently with AMX ACOLs) although the ItAF jets perform reconnaissance missions only. Interestingly, among the aircraft that the Italians flew to Konya there were also three Tornado ECR, that are highly-specialised aircraft capable to perform SEAD/DEAD (Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses) tasks.
As happened in the previous years, the AE attracted thousands of aircraft spotters and media representatives, eager to take some cool shots of the aircraft (including some rather “exotic” ones) taking part in the exercise. Among them, there was Remo Guidi, who took the photographs you can find in this post.
It’s not clear what role Konya airbase and some of its officers played in the failed coup on Jul. 15-16. There are still many conflicting reports about the air operations over Turkey in the night of the attempted military takeover. For sure, some TuAF officers, including the base operations commander, were arrested on Jul. 17 under suspiction of being involved in the coup attempt.
Konya is an important base, the headquarters of the Anatolian Eagle Training Center Command, that plans, organizes and conducts the AE drills and has the important role of testing and validating TuAF’s aircraft and units’ ability and preparedness for combat, establishing a background knowledge to achieve the military aims at war in the shortest time and with minimum effort. In simple words, Konya is where tactics are developed and put to test. Moreover, it hosts the 131 Filo, the squadron that operates the E-7T (B737AEW&C); 132 Filo that flies the F-16C/D Block 50; 135 Filo, equipped with AS532AL, CN235M-100 and UH-1H helicopters and it is the homebase of the Turkish Stars, the TuAF display team.
Primarily, the base is going to act as a reserve diversion airfield for the jets operating from the French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle that has been operating in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, from where it launched the first raids against ISIS earlier this week.
British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said:
“This offer is another demonstration of our solidarity with our French allies. It is right that we do all we can to help them hit ISIL harder. Meanwhile, we will continue to strike this vile organization in Iraq and build the case for extending those strikes to Syria.”
At the moment, a dozen French Rafale and Mirage 2000 jets are supporting Operation Chammal from Muwaffaq Salti Air Base in Jordan and Al Dhafra Air Base in the UAE. This component is supplemented by another 20 jets based on the CDG aircraft carrier, operating in the Mediterranean Sea.
According to The Telegraph, David Cameron claimed that Great Britain is going to do “all in its power”, supporting France in the struggle against ISIS, in a response to the Paris acts of terror. The proposal emerged after the meeting of the British PM David Cameron and Francois Hollande, the French President
Interestingly, this is not the first time the French are using the British Airbase in Cyprus in cooperation with the Royal Air Force. During the Suez Crisis, in 1956, the air forces of both countries were stationed in Cyprus, launching air strikes against Egypt and flying sorties, the aim of which was to neutralize the Egyptian Air Force.
The Tornado fighter bomber is one of the platforms already integrated with the GBU-39 SDBs (Small Diameter Bombs).
The GBU-39 SDB is a 250-lb multipurpose, insensitive, penetrating bomb with a blast-fragmentation warhead for stationary targets.
These bombs are equipped with deployable wings for extended standoff range that open upon release allowing the GPS-guided bomb to glide for several miles before hitting the target with accuracy.
GBU-39s are quite small: they are usually carried in two pairs underneath the fuselage (on tactical jets) or on the underwing pylons (on the AC-130W that is the largest aircraft to use this kind of bomb).
Among the Lessons Learned of the Air War in Libya, there was the need to employ SDBs to improve accuracy from distance and reduce collateral damage; a GBU-39 launched at high-speed from high altitude can travel for as much as 50 miles, allowing the attack plane to remain outside the range of most SAM (Surface-to-Air Missile) batteries.
The SDB is currently integrated on the F-15E Strike Eagle, the F-22, that with software increment 3.1 is able to carry 8 GBU-39s, and the AC-130W whereas all the remaining U.S. bombers (including the F-35) will get the slender bombs in the future. The Israeli and Italian air forces have procured this kind of weapon as well, with the latter planning to integrate the SDBs on the Tornado aircraft upgraded to the enhanced RET 7 and 8 standards.
Typhoons, KC-767, T-346, HH-101 and much more among the highlights of the largest Italian airshow this year.
Last weekend, the Italian Air Force celebrated the Frecce Tricolori‘s 55th anniversary with an airshow at Rivolto airbase, in northeastern Italy, attended by 450,000 spectators and featuring more than 100 planes, helicopters and UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and 11 national display teams.
Obviously, the leading role in the airshow was played by the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) that showcased its most advanced “hardware” and capabilities.
The Italian Eurofighter Typhoons took the stage not only with a stunning solo display by the F-2000 (as the aircraft is designated by the ItAF) of the Reparto Sperimentale Volo (Test Wing) from Pratica di Mare but also by escorting an Alitalia A320 and an A330 in an air defense role demo aimed at showing what the aircraft do more frequently.
Image credit: Alessandro Fucito
In fact, Italy has been the very first (and the only one, for the moment) nation to provide so-called IAP (Interim Air Policing) tasks over four foreign airspaces: Iceland (on rotation), Slovenia, Albania (task shared with the Hellenic Air Force) and Baltic States (where first rotation ended at the end of August, when the four Italian F-2000s successfully completed their 8-month NATO Baltic Air Patrol deployment to Lithuania, logging about 900 flying hours, 40 Alpha-Scrambles (alert takeoffs), more than 160 Tango-Scrambles (training scrambles) and several training missions).
As already mentioned here, during the airshow, the ItAF unveiled two special colored Typhoons belonging to the 10° Gruppo (Squadron) of 36° Stormo (Wing), based at Gioia del Colle: two aircraft (MM7297 and 7308), with camouflaged tail, tricolored rudder and a large black rearing horse on white cloud, symbol of Italy’s top WWI ace Francesco Baracca, performed a flyover along with a replica of the SPAD XIII, the French biplane fighter aircraft flown by Baracca that inspired the new special color scheme.
Image credit: Alessandro Fucito
Aerial refueling is another capability that Italy is continuing to develop to improve power projection: the Italian Boeing KC-767A, the first international tanker to successfully complete aerial refueling of a U.S. Air Force F-35A on Jul 29, took part in the display flying over Rivolto airbase leading a formation of two Typhoons and two Tornado IDS and two AMX bombers that had previously performed a simulated attack on the base. A real first was the HAAR (Helicopter Air-to-Air Refueling) demo showing a brand new AgustaWestland HH-101A Caesar of the 15° Stormo (Wing) trailing a KC-130J tanker of the 46^ Brigata Aerea from Pisa: a confirmation that the new CSAR (Combat Search And Rescue) helicopter that the ItAF will use for Special Forces support, Personnel Recovery in hostile environments, MEDEVAC (Medical Evacuation) and SMI (Slow Mover Intercept) missions will soon start aerial refueling certification testing.
Dealing with pilot training, one of the highlights of the airshow was a unique “Legend formation,” made of all the most important training planes in the history of the Italian Air Force, from the G.59, to the T-6 Texan, to the MB.326 to the above mentioned T-346, the latest and most advanced one, flying with the 61° Stormo at Lecce Galatina airbase and used for advanced pre-operative training of the Italian, Dutch (and soon Polish) pilots destined to the 4th and 5th Generation combat planes.
Although the most exciting part of the airshow was the “dynamic” flying display, some interesting things could be found among the participants in static display. Among them, the mock-up of the T-344 V.E.S.P.A. (Very Efficient Smart Power Aircraft), an ItAF indigenous project based on the Caproni C-22J light jet-powered aircraft that will be used for basic ab initio jet training.
The P.1HH HammerHead UAS (Unmanned Aerial System), that the ItAF has already procured (three UAS systems, consisting of six aircraft and three ground stations and complete with ISR configuration, that will be delivered early next year), was also in static display sporting the markings and code of 28° Gruppo (Squadron) belonging to 32° Stormo from Amendola, the ItAF’s UAV unit.
Another aircraft that caught the interest of the public was the M-345 HET (High Efficiency Trainer) a trainer based on the M-311 and expected to enter service with the Italian Air Force between 2017-2020 to replace the aging MB.339. The M-345 HET was selected to be the next aircraft flown by the Frecce Tricolori display team.
As already said, Italy’s largest airshow in 2015 featured some interesting foreign participants, including the Royal Saudi Air Force Saudi Hawks and Finnish Air Force Midnight Hawks display teams and the Polish Mig-29 and Belgian F-16 solos, as well as the AH-64 Apache of the Royal Netherlands Air Force Demo Team.
Interestingly, for the first time ever, Rivolto airshow was preceded by a Spotter Day attended by about 300 photographers who were given the possibility to get shots of the arrivals and rehearsals. Kudos to the Italian Air Force and its Public Information Office for this much appreciated initiative.
All images by David Cenciotti unless otherwise stated.