ROME — The Italian Air Force and Navy have finally figured out how to manage their small fleets of F-35Bs, and it goes something like “Joint training and operations, but separate bases.”
With both services due to receive just 15 F-35B’s each, the need for pooled management has been obvious to officials, despite rivalries between the military branches.
Now a solution has been found which ensures synergies, even if it falls short of the joint squadron concept adopted in the U.K. for Royal Air Force and Royal Navy F-35Bs.
It envisages both services keeping 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 jointness would kick in during training and operations.
“When an operation is naval, we can offer a ‘package’ – pilots, aircraft and maintenance staff – to go on the (Italian navy carrier) Cavour under Navy 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 go under air force command,” he added.
The Air Force envisages using F-35Bs for so-called expeditionary missions where aircraft need to be positioned at a forward base with a short runway.
“For the Air Force, the F-35B is part of an expeditionary force that involves a C-130, used in these events as a fuel supply on the ground via the Air Landed Aircraft Refueling Point (ALARP), at locations with short airstrips,” said Goretti.
“We will involve the refueling of F-35Bs from C-130s in exercises with the Navy and other nations, like RAF last year, and we are also considering adding a group capable of loading armaments on the aircraft in order to be immediately re-tasked for a new expeditionary mission,” he added.
The Navy has already sent an F-35B to train for expeditionary missions with the Air Force on the Italian island of Pantelleria, and an Air Force jet flew from the Navy’s Cavour carrier last year. So far the Navy has received three F-35Bs and the Air Force has received two.
“I am really satisfied with the relationship with Navy,” said Goretti. “We have decided together on the operational requirements of both the Air Force and the Navy and we are working together well, because it benefits both of us.”
Goretti said he was comfortable with both services keeping separate land bases for their jets, despite some observers voicing concerns over cost duplications.
“There will not be one land base for both air force and navy aircraft,”he said.
“Our base is Amendola, while the Navy understandably wants to have its simulators close to the Taranto base of the Cavour, meaning Grottaglie. The Navy aircraft will be based on the Cavour. For minimal maintenance they could do it at Grottaglie, then go to Cameri,” he said, referring to Italy’s F-35 assembly and maintenance line in northern Italy.
Security considerations also played a role in keeping two bases, he added.
“If you look at Ukraine, we have gone back in time to the Cold War, when the dispersion of bases saved lives,” he said.
Splitting the aircraft would keep them safer, he claimed. “Having one base to save on resources could have happened before Ukraine, but the world has changed,” he said.
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.