Andrea Spinelli/GENOA

ITALY HAS deployed its McDonnell Douglas Harrier II Plus operationally for the first time on the aircraft carrier Garibaldi as part of a task force covering the withdrawal of United Nations forces from Somalia.

The Harrier II Plus aircraft, assigned to the Gruppo Aeri Imbarcati, were delivered to the navy in December 1994. The aircrew, however, have been training in the USA and only now are deemed to be combat ready.

Sources say that an Italian navy task group is due to leave from the Brindisi naval base between 20 and 22 January. The contingent will form part of a larger multi-national fleet, including French, UK and US Marine Corps warships.

Along with the three Harriers on the Garibaldi will be four army aviation Agusta A.129 Mangusta attack helicopters. Joint training using the Harriers and Mangustas in concert to provide close air-support has been carried out in the past few weeks.

The Italian task force includes some 600 paratroopers and marines. These troops would be deployed by helicopter as part of a cover force, should Somali guerillas attempt to harass the withdrawing UN forces.

The troops would be air deployed by the recently formed Nucleo Lotta Anfibia. This unit employs Sikorsky SH-3D and Agusta AB-212 helicopters in the amphibious-assault role.

Both types have been modified, with the removal of all anti-submarine-warfare equipment and the fitting of machine guns and rocket pods.

The Italian armed forces are looking to the experience of the Somali operation to feed into the creation of its planned amphibious brigade. The task-force deployment is expected to last at least until the end of March.

Source: Flight International