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Aug 24 2021

Update: Italian F-35 fighters execute trailblazer deployment in Baltic Air Policing

RAMSTEIN, Germany – Since May 2021, the Italian Air Force has conducted the first deployment of fifth generation fighter aircraft to NATO's Baltic Air Policing integrating this advanced capability into collective Allied security structures.

"The mission is going very well both operationally and logistically," said the Detachment Commander, Italian Air Force Colonel Vincenzo Sirico "We were able to respond with a 100% efficiency to all scramble orders from NATO's Combined Air Operations Centre at Uedem, Germany. The well-established sound procedures, excellent crew skills, maintenance support and the F-35 robustness has enabled us to live up to the expectations for the enduring Allied mission," he added.

Embedding 5th generation jets in this collective defence mission on the Alliance's eastern flank demonstrates how NATO adapts and enhances its posture to provide 24/7 vigilance and responsiveness in the region and beyond 

Deploying this modern fighter aircraft to an enduring mission for the first time comes with challenges, but Italy has been able to draw on the lessons learned from deploying the F-35 to NATO's Air Policing mission in Iceland in 2019 and 2020.

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Two Italian Air Force F-35 fighter aircraft flying over Estonia during a training mission helping integration of modern fifth generation technology into NATO's enduring Air Policing mission in the Baltic region. Photo and thumbnail of the story by Giovanni Colla.

"In my opinion, the special part about deploying F-35 for the first time was that it was not like deploying for the first time. All the personnel and the support structures were designed, thought and implemented to make the deployment seamless," said Colonel Sirico. "We achieve this outstanding result due to a coordinated and professional process involving the whole Italian Air Force way before the Task Force was even created. Thanks to this holistic approach, we were able to deploy and operate in Estonia rapidly end efficiently with comprehensive and enabling logistic support," he added. 

According to Colonel Sirico, "procedures were designed, coordinated and studied in order to provide crews with appropriate training to allow 24/7 aircraft readiness and availability". At the very beginning, the detachment concentrated on consolidating those procedures in the new 'habitat'. "Thanks to a team effort, the detachment was able to employ the F-35 like any other aircraft on alert, not encountering any problems even in a different than usual environment away from home," he added.
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The Italian Air Force detachment supports NATO Air Policing out of Ämari, Estonia with F-35 fighter jets for the first time. Together with Spanish Eurofighters flying out of Siauliai, Lithuania, they safeguard the skies. Photo by Italian Air Force.
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Two Italian Air Force F-35 outside their shelter at Ämari Air Base; for the first time fifth generation fighter aircraft patrolled the skies above the Baltic Allies Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for NATO. Photo by Italian Air Force.
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Italian Air Force F-35 fighter jets augment NATO's Baltic Air Policing mission. Integration of modern air technology proves how the Alliance and the Allies adapt their capabilities to safeguard the skies, Photo by Italian Air Force.

The Italian F-35 fighters participated in several multinational exercises in the Baltic area e.g. providing Close Air Support for Joint Tactical Attack Controller exercise of NATO's enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battlegroups. "Cooperation with eFP has been great and provided the opportunity to include various mission profiles into our day-to-day training. At the same time, the aircraft capabilities gave to the Allied personnel on the ground and other Allies air assets, the possibility to train and integrate a with fifth generation approach to combined operations," said Colonel Sirico.

The deployment offered a chance to test NATO's procedures for integrating 4th and 5th gen fighters with the existing NATO command and control architecture. "These procedures are interchangeable by the design," said Colonel Sirico. "They provide a common framework that perfectly translates aircraft differences into one common language that we all speak. Thanks to this, the cooperation – be it in training or in operations – between F-35s and fourth gen aircraft happens very smoothly," he added.

In conclusion, Colonel Sirico and his team appreciated the cooperation with the Estonian hosts. "They were really welcoming and provided an outstanding support; we felt that our presence was truly appreciated. We tackled all arising challenges together in a collaborative approach always finding the best solutions," he said. Most striking for him was the operational experience operating away from home and interacting with several Allies in the common goal of collectively safeguarding NATO airspace.

Story by Allied Air Command Public Affairs Office based on input from the Italian Air Force eAP Detachment Commander

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