Philip Stevens reports on this years Spring Flag exercise - Decimomannu, Sardinia May 7-25, 2007

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 attending 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) in a conflict over oilfields following disputed elections. Under a UN mandate a multi-national force is assembled and sent to a ‘Deployable 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 Special Operations Agusta-Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter transporting the ‘Fucilieri dell’Aria’ of the 16° Stormo (Wing) from Viterbo. The C-130J was escorted by friendly ‘blue force’ Italian and Turkish air defence aircraft.

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) with AMI F-16C’s, said that ‘Spring Flag’ gives you the chance to fly against unfamiliar opponents, such as the Hungarian Air Force’s Gripen.
At the end of the first 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.

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 Flight Refuelling from Decimo’. The final week of the exercise concluded with night flying operations.

4° Stormo Typhoon pilots fly against Hungarian Gripen
An exclusive interview with Major Andrea Argieri a 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 Grossetto 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 Air Force’s (Magyar Légierö) recently acquired Saab JAS-39 EBS HU Gripen.

Major Argieri who among others is 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).

Fully cleared weapons are ‘Beyond Visual Range’ (BVR) missiles, the BGT/SAAB/Alenia-Marconi IRIS-T (Infra Red Imaging System - Tail/Thrust Vector Control) and 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.


Source: Target Aviation Photography - Philip Stevens
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