The Italian Air Force leased 2 squadrons of surplus United States Air Force (USAF) F-16s with the ‘Peace Ceasar’ programme, these F-16s are used as a gap-filler between the retired F-104 Starfighter and the fully operational status of the Eurofighter Typhoon (Eurofighter EF-2000). Two squadrons are based at Trapani airbase (Sicilia), the 10th and 18th Gruppo (squadron) of the 37th Stormo (Wing). And the 23rd Gruppo of the 5th Stormo (5th Wing/23rd squadron) flies the F-16A/B from Cervia airbase. They have 10 operational F-16A single-seat aircraft plus one F-16B double-seat. There is also one F-16 present that is used for spareparts. Several training missions are flown on a daily basis but the one and only role of these F-16s is Air Defence. Air Defence not only for the Italian country but also for the neighbouring country of Slovenia. In a QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) shelter, an F-16 armed with AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, is standby for fast take-off to intercept unknown or hostile aircraft.
The first line F-16 support will be performed locally at Cervia airbase, with the assistance of a number of civilian employees of LockheedMartin. The second line F-16 support will be performed at Trapani airbase while the third line of support is done by LockheedMartin in the United States of America.
The 23rd Gruppo (callsign “Veltro”) has a motto that is “Come veltri ch’uscisser di catena” (which means: “Like unleashed hellhounds”). It is derived from the book “Inferno” by the medieval Italian author Dante Alighieri. The badge of the 23rd Gruppo shows a golden background with a greyhound/hellhound and a red Sidewinder air-to-air missile.
The commander of the 5th Stormo is Colonel Paolo Cianfanelli, who is also an operational F-16 pilot. Colonel Cianfanelli is one of the last trained F-16 pilots, after a previous career in the Panavia Tornado. Currently the Italian Airforce is to decide whether or not 2 additional pilots will be sent to the USA for F-16 training, but a budget needs to be negotiated first. In May 2010, the last operational F-16 of Cervia will be flown to Trapani airbase and the base will close down as an operational fighter base. There are some plans to locate some Eurofighters from Grosseto airbase as a QRA detachment to Cervia, but this is still in the planning phase. Cervia will become a helicopter base, as the 15th Stormo will move from Partica di Mare to Cervia. The 15th Stormo is equipped with the aging Sikorsky HH-3 Pelican helicopters in the Combat Search And Rescue (CSAR) role and the detachment of the HH-3 Pelicans at the nearby Rimini airbase will move to Cervia.
With the end of the F-16s era in 2010, the 23rd Gruppo will be disbanded too. Some 80% of the pilots and crew will transfer to Italian Eurofighter units, while the remaining 20% of the pilots and crew will transfer to the Amendola airbase to prepare for the arrival of the Lockheed F-35 JSF (Joint Strike Fighter). All “Veltri” (the men and women of the 23rd Gruppo “Veltro”) have the very strong hope that their Veltro badge will reappear on the tails of the new F-35 aircraft at Amendola airbase and that the “Veltro” callsigns can be heard for many years to come.
Credits: Capt Petrino (Cervia), LtCol Alfonsi (Rome), Dutch Embassy (Rome), all the Veltri (plural for Veltro). Website of 23 Gruppo: http://www.23sqn.it/ or http://xoomer.virgilio.it/23gruppo/,
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