After publishing the photostory named “A day in the life of the 9° Stormo of Grazzanise“, an article to provide a snapshot about the 9° Stormo and Grazzanise airbase in a day of 2003, and “A day in the life of the 5° Stormo of Cervia“, with all the pictures shot in the home of the Italian Vipers of the 23° Gruppo in Feb. 2004, I publish a new “A day in …..” photostory, with the pictures were taken at Gioia del Colle in Sept. 2004 during a 2 day visit I made to prepare an article that was published on Rivista Aeronautica (that you can read here in Italian). They are interesting because in that period, the local based 36° Stormo was made of 2 Gruppi on 3 aircraft types: the 156° Gruppo, equipped with the Tornado IDS, and the 12° Gruppo, that was returning the Tornado F.3 leased by the Royal Air Force (but was still flying them) and was converting to the SMI (Slow Movers Interceptor) role with the MB-339CD, “on loan” from the 61° Stormo (212° Gruppo).
I’ve just finished reading a couple of interesting articles published on the latest issue of Rivista Aeronautica (06/08). They deal with the Trial Imperial Hammer 2008 (TIH 08), a complex exercise that was held in Decimomannu last September and whose aim was to improve the Time Sensitive Targeting and Dynamic Retasking capabilities during counter-terrorism operations. The TIH 08 proposed an asymmetric warfare scenario with UAV (Unmanned Air Vehicles) operations, GPS Jamming missions, SIGINT/ESM sorties, Improvised Electronic Device activities. Some specialized assets attended the exercise: G.222VS of the 14° Stormo, B.707 of the Spanish Air Force, French C-160G Gabriel and Mirage F1CR, a C-130 Senior Scout of the Delaware ANG, a C-160 of the Turkish Air Force, a Br.1150 of the German Navy, Luftwaffe Tornado ECR and IDS, two EH-101 in ESM configuration, and Italian Tornado ECR and IDS. AMX, HH-3F and AB.212ICO of the Aeronautica Militare (ItAF) attended the CSAR missions. Supporting the exercise also a NATO E-3 AWACS and an E-3F of the French Air Force. All the information gathered by the various assets were collected by the JFFC (Joint Forces Fusion Center) that acted as a sensor fusion unit. The JFFC was a sort of “middleware” that received and distributed all the information received from the various assets linked by means of the Tactical Data Link (TDL): Link 16, Link 11 and IDM (Improved Data Modem). Noteworthy, the Link 16 data link was implemented also on the Italian Tornado IDS and ECR – this latter equipped also with an MSR (Multi-Ship Ranging) a Link 16-based capability for integrating and fusing information coming from different ELS (Emitter Locator System) in order to geolocalize electromagnetic threats discovered by different platforms. In a typical net-centric architecture, during the TIH 08, the Italian Tornados sent the information gathered by their MSR to the JFFC that could update the picture by delivering the information via Link 16/Link 11/IDM to all the other assets involved in the exercise and to the AWACS. The same information could be sent to a Tornado IDS that could be used to attack a target detected by a Tornado ECR. That said is it clear that the Link 16 – which required the installation of a MIDS/LVT (Multifunctional Information Distribution System / Low Volume Terminal) on the Tornados – is extremely important to establish a flexible, authenticated, encrypted e communication channel between different platforms for information exchange. Considering that the first Tornado ECR with MIDS and MSR was taken on charge by the Reparto Sperimentale on Jul 17, I didn’t remember that the Link 16 capability was not achieved by the ItAF for the first time by the Tornado fleet, in 2008, until Riccardo Vestuto, an F-104 and aviation expert, requested me some Tornado F.3 cockpit pictures. After I sent him those images I shot during my visit to Gioia del Colle in 2004 for an article that was published by Rivista Aeronautica he made me notice that in WSO (Weapon System Officer) cockpit there’s a third CRT above the standard two ones, that is not present on all the examples leased from the Royal Air Force and could have been installed after the delivery (that took place on Jul 5, 1995) as a retrofit.
Since some RAF Tornado F.3 are JTIDS/Link 16 capable it is possible that the third CRT on my pictures was the JTIDS (Joint Tactical Information Display System) or MIDS terminal installed only on a few examples in service with the 12° Gruppo of the 36° Stormo based in Gioia del Colle (that is the last Squadron to have been equipped with the ADV variant of the Tornado). When in 2004 I interviewed Maj. Luca Spuntoni, Cdr of the 12° Gruppo (to read the article in Italian click here: Il 36° Stormo), he explained that the Tornado F.3 was the first aircraft to introduce the JTIDS in Italy but I don’t know if the panel in the pictures is the one used by the WSO to manage the system in the ADV. If anybody has more information, please let me know.
In these days, two movements seems to interest the Italian Tornado fleet. The first one was announced many months ago and it is part of a project of rationalization of the ItAF resources, a plan that foresees to concentrate homogeneous fleets on the same bases. It deals with the movement of the 156 Gruppo aircraft, currently located in Gioia del Colle and belonging to the 36 Stormo, to Ghedi. The Tonkas wearing the Lynx badge will join the 154 Gruppo and 102 OCU of the 6 Stormo, thus creating a Tornado IDS MOB (Main Operating Base). Piacenza will remain the only other base hosting the Tonka, even if the type of aircraft equipping the 50 Stormo’s 155 Gruppo is the ECR version, used for SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense) mission. By next July, all the 156 Gr aircraft and crews will return to Ghedi 42 years after they moved in the opposite direction in 1966, when the Squadron left the 6 Aerobrigata to be annexed to the 36 Stormo.
The other possible relocation was hypothesised by the Italian MOD Ignazio La Russa during the NATO Council meeting in Bruxelles on June 13. Even if nothing has been decided yet, the Ministry explained that the deployment of the Tornado could be evaluated if demanded by the other allies to relieve the 6 German Tornados used for reconnaissance in Southern Afghanistan. The GAF planes have been operating under NATO command from Apr 9 from Mazar-e-Sharif, a forward base in Northern Afghanistan. The aircraft are used for “recce” missions and equipped with high-tech cameras and provide hi-rez images providing additional security for both the ISAF troops and civilian population. This would be the same task of the Italian Tornados.
The 154 Gruppo has recently received its new Reccelite pod and has performed the first reconnaissance mission with the new equipment on Mar 13. The Rafael Reccelite is a Day/Night electro-optical pod able to provide real-time imagery collection. It is made of a stabilized turret, Solid-state on board recorder that provides image collections in all directions, from high, medium and low altitudes and can transmit to a ground station the collected data in real-time via data-link. The Reccelite was integrated with the Tornado with the cooperation of the Alenia Aeronautica and the Reparto Sperimentale Volo, at Pratica di Mare and can be used to provide imagery of suspected Taliban positions in Afghanistan.
Since reconnaissance is one of the duties of the 154 Gruppo, which flew recce missions also on the Balkans and in case of national calamities, this Squadron is most probably the one destined to operate in Afghanistan should the need arise. In 2006, the possible deployment of the 51 Stormo AMX Ghiblis to Afghanistan was speculated; Ministry La Russa clearly explained that the only option under evaluation these days doesn’t foresee the involvement of Ghibli.
When in Sep. 2004 I visited Gioia del Colle, the last Tornado F3s of the 12 Gruppo were flying the last missions as the Squadron was receiving its first MB.339CDs. The 12 Gr is currently flying the F-2000 Typhoon.
Top image credit: Italian Air Force
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