Italian air force Eurofighters and navy Boeing AV-8B Harrier II Plus multi-role aircraft have begun flying combat air patrol missions in support of NATO's Operation Unified Protector.

Although they had been forward-deployed from Grosseto to Trapani air base and from Grottaglie to aboard the aircraft carrier Garibaldi since the beginning of the Libyan crisis, the assets had previously been operating only as part of Italy's air defence network.

Operational control for the four Eurofighters and four Harriers was transferred to NATO until 27 March, freeing them to participate in enforcing the no-fly zone imposed against the regime of Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi.

Italian Eurofighters flew their first, 2h 30min missions in support of the operation from Trapani two days later, completing two two-ship sorties. Each was armed with four Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM and four Diehl BGT Defence IRIS-T air-to-air missiles.

 Eurofighter Trapani - Italian air force
© Italian air force

The same number of flights were logged by Harriers launched from the Garibaldi in support of defending NATO's naval component. The navy's AV-8Bs typically fly with two AMRAAMs and two Raytheon AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, but can also carry Rafael Litening targeting pods for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tasks.

 AV-8B - Italian navy
© Italian navy

Italy also has additional aircraft committed as part of the US-led Operation Odyssey Dawn, including four Panavia Tornado electronic combat and reconnaissance aircraft. These have flown multiple patrol and escort missions from Trapani since 19 March carrying Raytheon AGM-88 high-speed anti-radiation missiles.

In operations until 27 March, the aircraft were supported by four Italian air force Lockheed Martin F-16 air defence fighters, plus Tornado interdictor strike aircraft equipped with "buddy-buddy" in-flight refuelling pods. Lockheed C-130Js from the 46th Air Brigade at Pisa air base also are continuing to provide tanker support for Italian operations.

Source: Flight International