Spring Flag 2007 - 'Italy heads multi-national force over Zaraland and Etnaland dispute'

Philip Stevens reports on Exercise 'Spring Flag 2007' operating from Decimomannu Air Base, Sardinia from May 7-27, 2007.

Spring Flag 2007 patch

Spring Flag 2007 patch.

Under Italian leadership, over 50 fighter aircraft from four NATO members deployed to Decimomannu air base, under a United Nations mandate to provide 'Peace Support Operations' over a simulated conflict between two countries. This is the scenario for the Italian Air Force's main annual exercise; 'Spring Flag' the objective being to train personnel to prepare for complex or Composite Air Operations (COMAO) and Tactical Air Support Maritime Operations (TASMO).

'Spring Flag' is a multi-national day and night exercise run by the Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militare Italiana or AMI), but also involves the Italian Navy (Marina Militare Italiana or MMI) and Italian Army (Aviazione Dell' Esercito or AVES). Additionally a number of foreign air forces are invited each year. The exercise is organised by the Operative Command of the AMI with the participation of both the Logistic Command and the Air Squadron Command.

The first 'Spring Flag' was held in 2003 and each year since, with the exception of the scheduled 2005 event, which was cancelled to cut costs. 'Spring Flag 2007' (SF07) started on May 7 with the arrival of aircraft at the AMI airbase of Decimomannu on Sardinia. Adding to a full range of Italian forces were fighter aircraft from Turkey, Hungary and Germany. Turkey were flying six Lockheed Martin F-16C/D's and Hungary had four Saab JAS-39 EBS HU Gripen, both countries were here for the first time. Germany attended with six McDonnell Douglas F-4F Phantoms. A large number of temporary units had already been assembled before the exercise began. These included a mobile fuel depot, mobile weapons depot, mobile chemical laboratory, mobile control tower and a special shelter for command and logistical control. Also, a large number of tents had been erected for the nearly 1,000 strong attending Italian personnel, while foreign guests with typical Italian hospitality were housed in the air base's main buildings.

A challenging scenario
The exercise scenario for SF07 involved two fictitious countries named 'Zaraland' (Corsica) and 'Etnaland' (Sicily) embroiled in a conflict over oilfields following disputed elections. Under a UN mandate a multi-national force is assembled and sent to a Dispersed Operating Base (DOB) in the neutral country known as 'Nuraghia' (Sardinia).

Two command and control units were set up at Alghero and Decimomannu to coordinate air operations, as would be done in real times of crisis. With all forces briefed and in position the event 'hots up' at the start of the second week, with an evacuation of non-enlisted personnel. The package for the evacuation consisted of a Lockheed C-130J Hercules of the 46° Air Brigade based at Pisa with Alpine Parachute Rangers of the 4° Regiment from Bolzano and a Agusta-Boeing CH-47 Chinook from Viterbo, with a team from the 'Fucilieri dell'Aria' (Special Forces) of 16° Stormo (Wing). The C-130J was escorted by friendly 'blue force' Italian and Turkish air defence aircraft.

Four Gripen and five pilots with support staff were at 'Spring Flag'. They were tasked with Beyond Visual Range (BVR) Opposing Forces (OPFOR) operations or 'red air' during the exercise. As with the Turkish contingent they were attending 'Spring Flag' for the first time.

Four Gripen and five pilots with support staff were at 'Spring Flag'. They were tasked with Beyond Visual Range (BVR) Opposing Forces (OPFOR) operations or 'red air' during the exercise. As with the Turkish contingent they were attending 'Spring Flag' for the first time.

As the 'crisis' escalated, the Italian Navy including the aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi with its McDonnell Douglas-British Aerospace AV-8B Harriers came under threat, resulting in attacks by German Air Force F-4F Phantoms. With frequent aerial battles throughout the second week, enemy 'red air' F-16 pilots were pitching their skills against the latest addition to the AMI's aerial force, the Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoons of 4° Stormo based at Grosetto. Major Andrea Argieri an AMI Typhoon pilot with 200 hours who frequently trains on Basic Fighter Manoeuvres (BFM) and Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) with AMI F-16ADF's, said that 'Spring Flag' gives you the chance to fly against unfamiliar opponents, such as the Hungarian Defence Force's (Magyar Légierö) Gripen.

At the end of the second week a force of Panavia PA200 Tornado IDS from 6° and 36° Stormo with Alenia-Aermacchi-EMBRAER AMX from 32° and 51° Stormo made their way south for a simulated attack on Trapani Air Base. For this strike, air-to-air refuelling (AAR) was provided by a Royal Air Force VC-10 C.1K which was operating out of Cagliari-Elmas. The 101 Squadron VC-10 was tasked with four AAR sorties during their week long stay (click for report).

Other supporting aircraft involved, included a French Air Force Boeing E-3F AWACS flying from its base at Avord and an AMI Boeing 707-373C air refuelling tanker of 14° Stormo from Pratica di Mare. Electronic counter measures (ECM) were provided by two Dassault Falcon 20EW's, which were operated by FR Aviation from Decimo'. The final week of the exercise concluded with night flying operations.

4° Stormo Typhoon pilots fly against Hungarian Gripen
A 4° Stormo Typhoon is checked by pilot and prepared by ground crew for its next sortie.

A 4° Stormo Typhoon is checked by pilot and prepared by ground crew for its next sortie.

An exclusive interview with Major Andrea Argieri an EF2000 Typhoon pilot with 200 hours experience, who has also flown the Lockheed/Aeritalia F-104S/ASA Starfighter at Cervia (1,000 hours) and General Dynamics F-16A/B Fighting Falcon 'Viper' at Trapani (800 hours). He is currently with 9° Gruppo of 4° Stormo and is based at Grosetto where 18 to 22 Typhoon's have now been delivered.
Major Andrea Argieri explained that the Typhoon's superior thrust to weight ratio over the F-16A Fighting Falcon gives him an advantage along with it's superior radar, fully integrated colour displays with multiple sensors. "Where the F-104 Starfighter's cockpit was designed for flying, the Typhoon's is designed for flying missions. Streamlined and optimised information processing is now the key factor in aerial combat". Major Argieri frequently trains on Basic Fighter Manoeuvres (BFM) mostly many-against-many (4v4) and less frequently 1v1's and 2v2's. The 'Spring Flag' exercise at Decimomannu gives you the chance to fly against unfamiliar opponents such as the Hungarian Defence Force's recently acquired Saab JAS-39 EBS HU Gripen.

Major Argieri who is among others responsible for writing the tactics manual, said that 70-80% of it was written for when the aircraft first arrived in March 2005. "Although complete the manual is still evolving as computer software is upgraded".

9° Gruppo of 4° Stormo started Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) duties from December 15, 2005 and were evaluated by NATO in March 2006. Pilots are combat ready sharing Italian QRA responsibilities with F-16A's based at Cervia (5° Stormo) and Trapani (37° Stormo).
The AMI Typhoon's were using the BGT/SAAB/Alenia-Marconi IRIS-T (Infra Red Imaging System - Tail/Thrust Vector Control) Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile.

The AMI Typhoon's were using the BGT/SAAB/Alenia-Marconi IRIS-T (Infra Red Imaging System - Tail/Thrust Vector Control) Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile

Fully cleared weapons are 'Beyond Visual Range' (BVR) missiles, the BGT/SAAB/Alenia-Marconi IRIS-T (Infra Red Imaging System - Tail/Thrust Vector Control) with the Typhoon's BK27mm Mauser cannon. The IRIS-T infra-red missile is based on the less capable AIM-9 missile, but retains complete interoperability with it. It is expected that in two months time the Typhoon will have air-to-ground capability.

In May the pilot with the most hours on Typhoon at 4° Stormo had 380 hours. Air to air combat training is the main activity as air defence is the backbone of Typhoon's immediate role. The Typhoon will eventually replace the leased F-16's, which are expected to be withdrawn by 2010, the final decision has yet to be made however.
Turkish Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcons (89-0031) are last to return after a 'red air' bombing sortie.

Turkish Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcons (89-0031) are last to return after a 'red air' bombing sortie. Making their 'Spring Flag' debut, the Turkish Air Force's Mighty 141 Filo 'Wolves' Fighter Squadron based at Akinci attended with six F-16C/D Block 40 (one two-seat and five single-seat) aircraft and 13 pilots. Two additional pilots participated in support roles at the Exercise Planning Cell and Deployable Air Operation Centre. Their multi-role missions included simulated bombing sorties.



RAF 101 Squadron Delivering Gas
36° Stormo Tornado IDS (MM7065/36-43) receiving fuel from 101 Squadron VC-10 C.1K (XV104) which was operating out of Cagliari-Elmas airport Sardinia. Elmas is just a few miles south of the exercises main operating base of Decimomannu.

36° Stormo Tornado IDS (MM7065/36-43) receiving fuel from 101 Squadron VC-10 C.1K (XV104) which was operating out of Cagliari-Elmas airport Sardinia. Elmas is just a few miles south of the exercises main operating base of Decimomannu.

The deployment of the VC-10 had been planned a month earlier to supplement the Aeronautica Militare Italiana's own Boeing 707-373C air refuelling tankers of 14° Stormo, which were operating out of Pratica di Mare. Also a United States Air Force KC-135R Stratotanker of 100ARW from RAF Mildenhall was also on call from Trapani air base in Sicily. The VC-10's deployment was made on behalf of the still developing 'European Airlift Command' (EAC). This is where EAC members share resources for greater efficiency. By gaining hours or credit for missions undertaken, member states can cash in their credits to take advantage of another state's assets as and when required.

Following an Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) mission earlier in the day Flt. Lt. Paul Summers (Captain) and Flt. Lt. Phil Hird (Co-pilot) flew with their crew to Sardinia on Tuesday May 22. Accompanying the two pilots were, a navigator, flight engineer and load master. To keep the aircraft serviceable in the charge of the Engineering Executive were; a ground engineer and four other engineers. A package of spares, such as radios and engine parts, essential to keep the aircraft operational, were carried in the hold.

The first AAR mission for the VC-10 was scheduled for May 24, day four of 'Spring Flag'. This was to be a short mission, to dispense 9,000 Kgs of Jet-A fuel to two AMI Tornado and two AMX. Ready to go and just seconds before taxiing, the Air Traffic Controller announced, "your mission has been cancelled". With the poor sea state and high crosswinds, it was deemed too hazardous to continue with the afternoon's missions and flying was suspended. Last year at 'Spring Flag' two AMI F-16's collided and both pilots, who were forced to eject, were rescued from the sea.

On day five, and for the last of its daylight missions, the VC-10 (callsign 'Exxon 20') was loaded up with additional fuel for the scheduled four hour sortie. We were in position at 17,000 feet (5,182m) just 30 minutes after take-off, in Air-to-Air Refuelling Area (AARA) known as 'Sardo' which is north east of Sardinia. The refuelling 'trade' were two pairs (callsigns 'Legion' and 'Felix') of Tornado IDS of 6° from Ghedi and 36° Stormo from Gioia del Colle. The Tornados were flying with two 51° Stormo AMX (callsign 'Phoenix') on a mission to attack Trapani air base on Sicily. All six aircraft arrived in a short space of time, but were soon topped up with gas and on their way to the target.

After a short transit south to AARA 'Mukka', VC-10 'Exxon 20' and descended to 14,000 feet (4267m) and were awaiting six AMX of 32° Stormo from Amendola and 51° Stormo from Istrana, using callsigns 'Fulmen' and 'Phoenix'. The three pairs of AMX were returning from the raid on Trapani and following refuelling elected to escort us home.

The 101 Squadron VC-10 was tasked with two night sorties in the final week of the exercise. Both missions were three hours in duration, with a total give of just 10,000 Kgs to two AMI Tornado on both occasions. Speaking to the crew, all sorties were successful apart from a problem with a switch on one of the two tow lines on mission two. There were some language barriers with the local Air Traffic Control, which made it quite hard to co-ordinate all of the aircraft around their tanker to avoid possible collisions from occurring.

Spring Flag 2007 - Special Schemes
This year's event was attended by several aircraft painted in some special paint schemes.

AMX coded '32-01' of 32° Stormo
A 32° Stormo AMX (MM7147 '32-01) from Amendola has been painted to represent a Marchetti SM.79 torpedo bomber as flown by decorated pilot Capt. Armando Boetto when with 32° Stormo. The authentic WW2 mottled green camouflage has replaced the normal grey of its wing man.

A 32° Stormo AMX (MM7147 '32-01) from Amendola has been painted to represent a Marchetti SM.79 torpedo bomber as flown by decorated pilot Capt. Armando Boetto when with 32° Stormo. The authentic WW2 mottled green camouflage has replaced the normal grey of its wing man.

32° Stormo based at Amendola air base attended 'Spring Flag' with an Alenia-Aermacchi-EMBRAER AMX resplendent in a remarkable paint scheme. 32° Stormo are named after pilot Capt. Armando Boetto. He was shot down with his Savoia Marchetti SM79 torpedo bomber on May 8, 1941 during a mission over the Western Mediterranean against Allied fleet. For this, Capt Boetto was awarded Gold Medal of Military Valor.

The paint scheme of the SM79 flown by Capt. Boetto has been studied by 32° Stormo Lt. Col Balzano. Using what little documentation was available applied it to the Stormo's current fighter-bomber, the AMX with a few changes. The original code '49-01' (49 is the number of Boetto's Squadron that belonged to the 32° Stormo during World War Two) has been changed to '32-01', but the same red and black colours have been retained. The white cross on the tail fin belongs to the former Savoia's Royal Family, and was worn by nearly all aircraft during WW2. A small badge in the middle of the cross has been removed and replaced with a 'Mosquito' which was the original symbol of the 32° Stormo, when based at Cagliari-Elmas. Today the 32° Stormo insignia is a black crow. AMI national roundels have also been applied of course.

Under the cockpit, Boetto's name has been applied along with 'Medaglia d'Oro al V.M.' (Gold Medal of Military Valor). The fuel tanks on both sides have the inscription '70 Anni per la Patria' (70 years for the native land). The scheme was first presented on December 3, 2006 on the 70th anniversary of the 32° Stormo. In the past an F-104 Starfighter had been painted in a WW2 camouflage, but this is the first time a complete scheme has been applied to a modern aircraft.

AMX (MM7133 coded '51-32') of 132° Gruppo of 51° Stormo
AMX (serial MM7133 and coded '51-32') of 132° Gruppo of 51° Stormo (Italian Air Force) over Sardinia during exercise 'Spring Flag'. During the two week day and night exercise AMX from 32° (Amendola) and 51° Stormo (Istrana) flew combined sorties.

AMX (serial MM7133 and coded '51-32') of 132° Gruppo of 51° Stormo (Italian Air Force) over Sardinia during exercise 'Spring Flag'. During the two week day and night exercise AMX from 32° (Amendola) and 51° Stormo (Istrana) flew combined sorties.

132° Gruppo of 51° Stormo 'Ferruccio Serafini' from Istrana were not quite so extravagant when they painted up their AMX (serial MM7133 coded appropriately '51-32') in 'low-vis' markings on the tail only, for this their 65th anniversary year. Painted on both sides of the tail is, 'Buscaglia', after Carlo Emanuele Buscaglia, a famous Italian pilot from WW2, who flew the Savoia Marchetti SM.79. In 1942 he was shot down by a British Spitfire and declared dead and awarded the Gold Medal of Military Valor 'posthumously'. In fact he was rescued by the Allies and held a prisoner of war in the United States. Persuaded later to fight for the Allies, he was given the command of the 28th Bomber Wing on July 15, 1944, flying Martin Baltimores from Campio Vesuvio near Naples. Sadly just five weeks later, on August 23, his plane crashed on take-off and he died in hospital.

On the right side only of the AMX tail, is their Squadron emblem dating back to 1944, of a world with four black puma walking over the top with their inscription; 'Sempre I soliti.!' (Always the usual!).

Tornado IDS (serial MM7006 and coded '6-31') of 6° Stormo, 154° Gruppo
Flying over Mediterranean en-route to Trapani for a simulated air field attack, as part of the 'Spring Flag' exercise, is Italian Air Force Tornado IDS (serial MM7006 and coded '6-31') with 154° Gruppo of 6° Stormo from Ghedi. It is fitted with a Thomson TRT-Defence CLDP (Convertible Laser Designator Pod) and used for day and night reconnaissance and target identification.

Flying over Mediterranean en-route to Trapani for a simulated air field attack, as part of the 'Spring Flag' exercise, is Italian Air Force Tornado IDS (serial MM7006 and coded '6-31') with 154° Gruppo of 6° Stormo from Ghedi. It is fitted with a Thomson TRT-Defence CLDP (Convertible Laser Designator Pod) and used for day and night reconnaissance and target identification.

154° Gruppo of 6° Stormo 'Diavoli Rossi' (Red Devils) attended with six Panavia PA200 Tornado IDS aircraft. Tornado IDS (serial MM7006 and coded '6-31'), has been painted with a black tail and a red devil holding a bomb, whilst flying towards the target. The aircraft with its special scheme was first presented at the 154° Gruppo reunion held at Ghedi on April 26, 2007. On the aircraft's nose is the inscription; '25th ANNI DI TORNADO' celebrating 25 years of the Tornado in service in the AMI. The first operational Tornado was flown to Ghedi air base home of 6° Stormo on August 27, 1982. Since delivery 18 Tornado, including this one, were selected for Mid-Life Upgrades (MLU) to improve their capabilities and employ advanced weapons including 'Storm Shadow'.

 

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