PICTURE: Italian navy deploys first AW101s to Afghanistan

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The Italian navy's "Task Group Shark" deployment of three AgustaWestland AW101 amphibious and special forces support helicopters has arrived in Afghanistan, representing the service's first combat deployment with the type.

Drawn from the 1st Helicopter Group, the AW101s were deployed to Herat air base by US Air Force Boeing C-17 strategic transports in late October, along with 67 personnel, and are now operational.

Armed with machine guns, and carrying ballistic protection and countermeasures equipment, the AW101s will be used to conduct surveillance and patrol missions, support ground convoys and perform transport and medical evacuation tasks.

 
© Italian navy

The navy's 5th Helicopter Group is also in training at Luni air station before receiving its first four NH Industries NH90 anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare helicopters in the first quarter of 2011.

Preparations are also being made at Grottaglie air station for future operations with Lockheed Martin's F-35B. The navy should receive 22 of the short take-off and vertical landing aircraft between 2014 and 2021, with its Cavour aircraft carrier set to be modified for the type by 2016.