Two Alenia Aeronautica C-27J Spartan tactical transports from the Italian air force's 46th Airlift Brigade left Pisa air base on 12 September for Herat in south-west Afghanistan, where they will join Italy's contribution to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
One aircraft will be used to provide intra-theatre airlift, replacing a Herat-based Lockheed Martin C-130J, while the other will act as a reserve asset. The Spartans are equipped with a self-protection suite comprising laser, missile and radar warning systems, chaff and flare dispensers, and ballistic protection for the cockpit, loadmaster stations and vital aircraft systems.
© Italian air force
The Afghan deployment represents the first operational overseas use of Italy's C-27Js, excluding airlift missions flown earlier this year in support of Italy's peace-keeping contingent in Lebanon.
Eight C-27Js have logged more than 3,200 flight hours since entering Italian air force use with its 98th Airlift Squadron in January 2007, and at least 10 crews have completed training on the type. The service's remaining four Spartans will be delivered by early 2009.
Italy's current airlift support detachment at Al-Bateen air base in the United Arab Emirates has amassed over 16,700 flight hours with the C-130J, including more than 1,400h flown from the forward base at Herat.
The air force has also logged over 2,000h in Afghanistan with its General Atomics Predator A unmanned air vehicles, and also operates Agusta-Bell AB212 utility helicopters in rotation with the Italian navy.