The Italian air force is seeking to certify refuelling of the Lockheed Martin F-16 using its Boeing KC-767A, to complete a list of types that will operate alongside the tanker.
The service has tried three times to certify the operation using Belgian, Dutch and Polish F-16s, but data transfer between the manufacturers that is required to carry out the testing has until now failed to happen, delaying the process.
Once fully cleared with one operator, the approval will roll over to all F-16 users, and expand the operational utility of the tanker.
In August, an Italian KC-767A for the first time refuelled a Lockheed F-35 Lightning II. This will help in a process during which the first F-35 to have been assembled in Italy will be flown to Luke AFB in Arizona with tanker support.
“One of our main goals this year was F-35 clearance, plus F-16,” Col Giorgio Seravalle, chief of air operations for the Italian air force, told SMi's Military Airlift and Rapid Reaction Operations conference in Seville on 1 December. “F-16 would be the final tick in the box.”
Seravalle adds that the combination of the tanker alongside the F-35 is a “real definition of air power; with these two aircraft you can really do a lot”.
February 2016 will see the first Italian-built F-35As – final assembly and checkout work is carried out by Lockheed alongside Alenia Aermacchi at Cameri air base – roll off the production line, ahead of a planned one aircraft per month production rate.
The Italian air force has a four-strong fleet of KC-767As based at Pratica di Mare air base. One of these is permanently deployed in Kuwait, in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq, and is expected to remain there in 2016.
Italy's aircraft were used to transport aid to Sierra Leone during the ebola outbreak, to Nepal following a major earthquake this year, and to support NATO's Baltic air policing operations.
Rome intends to purchase 60 F-35As and 30 F-35Bs to replace its Panavia Tornado IDS, AMX and McDonnell Douglas AV-8 Harrier strike aircraft.