First frontline squadron to achieve full operational capability next year, with 19 aircraft already in air force service

Italian air force use of the Eurofighter Typhoon is gaining momentum, with the service's first frontline squadron expecting to achieve full operational capability with the type in late 2008.

Part of the service's 4th Wing at Grosseto airbase between Florence and Rome, 9 Sqn is already contributing to the air defence of Italy with support from the air force's 20 Sqn Eurofighter operational conversion unit.

Eurofighter typhoon Italy 
© Luca Peruzzi   

Eurofighter means "cultural and organisational change" for Italy's air force, which has now flown 3,900h

Eurofighter has been available to provide a limited quick reaction alert capability for Italy since December 2005, with formal duties delivered since 1 January 2007 using aircraft armed with Raytheon AIM-9 Sidewinder short- and AIM-120 AMRAAM medium-range air-to-air missiles and Mauser 27mm cannon.

"With a 40-year-plus tradition of [Lockheed] F-104 Starfighter air defence operations, the Eurofighter represents a huge operational step forward, but also required a cultural and organisational change for the air force," says Col Giuseppe Sgamba, Eurofighter programme office member at the air force headquarters logistics department.

Italy received its first Eurofighter in March 2004 and now has 19 aircraft in service, including six two-seat trainers and three examples undergoing retrofit at Alenia Aeronautica's Turin Caselle facilities. Its air force has now logged over 3,900 flight hours with the aircraft, says 4th Wing commander Col Vincenzo Nuzzo.

Some 35 pilots are now flying the aircraft, including more than 20 to have achieved combat-ready status and others who are conducting squadron exchanges from the US and European air forces. "This summer the first cadre of ab initio pilots will begin training at 20 Squadron, a syllabus requiring around seven months," says 9 Sqn commander Lt Col Daniele Picco. The work will be supported using simulators at Alenia's Turin Caselle plant and a Galileo Avionica facility in Ronchi dei Legioniari.

Picco says dissimilar training has been conducted with French air force Dassault Mirage 2000 and French navy Rafale M fighters, Boeing F-15s and Lockheed Martin F-16s, "with positive feedback". Meanwhile, 9 Sqn is to develop a deployable capability following its participation in a "Spring Flag" exercise from 14 May.

The air force plans to form a second Eurofighter wing at Gioia del Colle airbase in south-west Italy in October, with the service to eventually have four or five frontline squadrons equipped with the type at the two bases.

Read Flight's Eurofighter Typhoon special....

Source: Flight International