ROME – The Italian Air Force and Navy have finally figured out how to manage their small F-35B fleets, and it’s going something like “Joint training and operations, but separate bases.”
With both services scheduled to receive only 15 F-35Bs each, the need for joint management was obvious to officials, despite rivalries between the military branches.
A solution has now been found that ensures synergies, even if it falls short of the joint Royal Air Force and Royal Navy F-35B squadron concept adopted in the UK.
It provides for both forces to maintain separate land bases for their jets – the Navy at Grottaglie in southern Italy and the Air Force at Amendola, also in southern Italy.
But Air Force Chief Gen. Luca Goretti told Defense News the commonality would kick in during training and operations.
“If it’s a naval operation, we can offer a ‘package’ – pilots, aircraft and maintenance personnel – to go on the (Italian naval carrier) Cavour under naval command,” he said. “If the operation is an Air Force operation with possible involvement of Navy aircraft, the Navy will offer the same ‘package’ to come under Air Force command,” he added.
The Air Force intends to use F-35Bs for so-called expeditionary missions, which require aircraft to be positioned on a short runway forward base.
“For the Air Force, the F-35B is part of an expeditionary force that includes a C-130 that will be used at these events as ground refueling via the Air Landed Aircraft Refueling Point (ALARP) at locations with short runways,” Goretti said .
“We will include F-35B refueling from C-130s in exercises with the Navy and other nations, such as the RAF last year, and we are also considering adding a group capable of launching weapons into the aircraft to be loaded in order to be immediately available again. commissioned for a new expeditionary mission,” he added.
The Navy has already sent an F-35B to the Italian island of Pantelleria for training for expeditionary missions with the Air Force, and last year an Air Force jet flew from the Navy’s Cavour carrier. To date, the Navy has received three F-35Bs and the Air Force two.
“I’m really happy with the relationship with Navy,” Goretti said. “We have jointly established the operational needs of both the Air Force and Navy and we work well together because it benefits us both.”
Goretti said he was OK with both services maintaining separate land bases for their jets, although some observers have expressed concerns about cost duplication.
“There will be no land base for both Air Force and Navy aircraft,” he said.
“Our base is Amendola, while the Navy understandably wants their simulators close to the Cavour’s Taranto base, which means Grottaglie. The Navy aircraft will be based on the Cavour. For minimal maintenance, they could do it in Grottaglie and then go to Cameri,” he said, referring to Italy’s F-35 assembly and maintenance line in northern Italy.
Safety considerations also played a role in keeping the two bases, he added.
“If you look at Ukraine, we’ve gone back to the Cold War era, when base dispersal saved lives,” he said.
Splitting up the planes would make them safer, he claimed. “Having a single base to conserve resources could have happened before Ukraine, but the world has changed,” he said.
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.