ROME — The Italian Air Force has started operational flights using one of two Gulfstream G550 conformal airborne early warning aircraft purchased from Israel, according to Italian defense sources.
Delivered in December 2017, this G550 aircraft is now flying from Pratica di Mare Air Base, south of Rome, alongside its counterpart, which was delivered in December 2016.
The G550 delivered in 2016 has flown in exercises alongside Italian F-35s, M-346 trainer jets and Eurofighters, and it has also used its air-to-air radar and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities in operations believed to have taken place in international waters near to Italy.
The two aircraft were ordered from Israel Aerospace Industries in 2012 as part of a swap deal under which Israel purchased 30 M-346 trainers from Italian firm Leonardo.
Under the deal, Italy also acquired a high-resolution optical military satellite for Earth observation called OpSat-3000, built by IAI/MBT Space Division.
Israel already operates its own Gulfstream early warning aircraft, which offer a capability that Italian Air Force generals have long coveted. In 2011, during air operations over Libya, Italy was frustrated by its own reliance on NATO early warning assets.
The new aircraft offer L- and S-band antennas, satellite links, 10-hour endurance, a 12,000-kilometer range, and a speed of 0.88 Mach.
The Italian Ministry of Defence currently flies a leased King Air aircraft from Italian islands in the Mediterranean, which provides signals intelligence capabilities. The U.S. also recently flew the aircraft type in the area to intercept signals in North Africa.
The Italian-leased King Air has replaced a Gulfstream III SIGINT leased from Lockheed Martin, which was acquired following the retirement of Italy’s G222 SIGINT aircraft.