PICTURES: Italy prepares AMX fleet for possible Afghanistan deployment

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The Italian air force has completed a four-week qualification campaign intended to clear its AMX ground-attack aircraft for possible operations in Afghanistan.

Ten of the aircraft, upgraded to Italy's latest ACOL standard, participated in a "Green Flag West" exercise at Nellis AFB, Nevada, flying 171 sorties totalling 300 flight hours by day and night.

Supported by nearly 180 personnel, including from air force and army special forces units, the aircraft were used for tasks such as convoy escort and urban close air support during the manoeuvres. A total of 30 inert air-to ground weapons were released during training, with the aircraft's 20mm cannon also used.

 italian air force
© Italian air force

The AMX force then went on to participate in its first "Red Flag" air warfare exercise, also conducted from Nellis AFB. This saw Italian pilots operate alongside US Air Force General Atomics MQ-1 Predator A and MQ-9 Reaper/Predator B unmanned air vehicles for the first time. Work culminated with two AMXs dropping four GBU-12 inert bombs with Lizard laser-guidance units against targets designated by a Predator B.

 
© Italian air force

Performed by Italian companies including Alenia Aeronautica, Alenia Aermacchi, Galileo Avionica and Selex Communications, the ACOL upgrade introduces new GPS-guided weapons, a Rafael Reccelite reconnaissance pod, night vision goggle-compatible cockpit and new navigation and identification equipment.

The project is due for completion later this year, although budget pressures mean the AMX fleet is at risk of reduction or early retirement. No official date has been set for the type's possible deployment to Afghanistan.

Italy is also in the process of upgrading its six air force Predator As with a Raytheon multispectral targeting system-A sensor payload, improved engine and extended wing. A satellite communications update will also enable the type to be launched and recovered in-theatre, but controlled from Amendola air base in southern Italy.

 
© Italian air force
Three aircraft have already been upgraded to the Predator A-Plus standard

Three Italian-based aircraft have received the enhancements, with the remainder to be modified during 2010. The air force is also in the process of acquiring four Predator Bs.