PRATICA DI MARE AIR BASE, Italy — Italy has teamed with the U.S. Air Force and NATO to run a virtual flight-training exercise, linking 22 simulators set up in two different countries that flew alongside and against each other in one virtual conflict.

The exercise, dubbed Spartan Alliance, saw simulators on various Italian air bases hook up with the German Luftwaffe and the U.S. Air Force Warrior Preparation Center in Ramstein, Germany. The simulation was the most sophisticated that Italy has taken part in, according to the Italian Air Force chief, Gen. Enzo Vecciarelli.

“Israel has done something similar, but while its simulators were all in the same room, ours were spread across the country,” he said.

Pilots flying Tornado fighter jets from simulators at Ghedi Air Base in Italy flew side by side with virtual Eurofighters piloted from simulators at Gioia del Colle Air Base, while T-346 jet trainers, flown from simulators at Lecce Air Base, posed as enemy aircraft in the virtual Italy created for the exercise.

Predator drones were also involved, as were C-130J aircraft, which provided simulated air refueling. NATO airborne early warning and control aircraft oversaw the exercise, and the Luftwaffe virtually deployed its Patriot anti-missile system.

F-18s, F-15s and A-10s were virtually flown from Ramstein.

Italian defense firm Leonardo hooked up the 12 Italian simulators used out of the 22 employed in the exercise.

One Italian aircraft not featured was the fifth-generation F-35, which is now flying operationally with the Italian Air Force. Vecciarelli did not say when the aircraft might be used in a future exercise, but hoped it would be in the near future.

“The F-35 will be used in these exercises as soon as possible, and hopefully with an environment more complicated than this one that sees the Army and the Navy and other state institutions participate, thanks to an open architecture,” he said.

In a presentation about the exercise, the Italian Air Force said it aimed to combine fourth- and fifth-generation assets in the exercise by 2023.

Italy’s focus on virtual training comes as it plans to expand its flight training school in Lecce, which is already using the T-346 jet trainer to train pilots from numerous air forces.

A new location is due to be found by 2021 for advanced T-346 training, while Phase II and III training using the new M-345 will remain at Lecce.

Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.

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