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Spring Flag 2008

Spring Flag 2008 is the main exercise organized by the Italian Air Force (l’Aeronautica Militare Italiana) each year. Besides the Italian armed forces (Air Force, Army and Navy) also national (governmental and non-governemantal) organizations concerned with national security participate, like the Italian Red Cross and the Foreign Affairs ministry. Besides the Italian participants are many NATO countries very willing to participate in this large exercise. Starting in 2000 for the first time, some interesting foreign aircraft participated in this annual exercise. In Spring Flag 2006 Israeli F-15’s were present and in Spring Flag 2007 Hungarian Gripens were among the flying participants.

The main airbase for exercise Spring Flag 2008 was Decimomannu (ICAO code LIED) at the island of Sardegna, hosting the ‘coalition party’. The opposing ‘opfor party’ was located at the airbase op Trapani (ICAO code LICT) at the other italian island Sicily. At the Deployable Operating Base (DOB) Decimomannu (mostly known as ‘Deci’) were based: Italian Air Force Tornado Italian Air Force Eurofighters Italian Air Force MB339 Italian Air Force G222 Italian Air Force C-130 Italian Air Force AMX Italian Air Force AB221 (CSAR helicopter) Italian Air Force HH-3F (CSAR helicopter) Italian Army CH-47 (transport helicopter) Italian Army A129 Mangusta (attack helicopter) Greek Air Force F-16C Turkish Air Force F-16C/D Spanish Air Force EF-18 German Tornado
On the airfield of Alghero (Sardegna) were 2 SF-260 aircraft temporary based as ‘Slow Moving Intercepts’ (SMI).

The opposing ‘red forces’ at Deployable Operating Base (DOB) Trapani (Sicily) consisted of Italian Air Force F-16 Italian Navy AV-8

Out of the NAS Sigonella airbase (at the island of Sicily) operated an American KC-135 tanker aircraft for aerial refueling during the exercise. A French E-3F AWACS flew airborne warning mission from it’s homebase of Avord in France. The B707T aircraft of the Italian Air Force could not participate due to their retirement earlier this year. The brand new KC-130J tanker aircraft did not participate because this aircraft type was still in its test phase at the Pratica di Mare airbase near Rome.

During the exercise, a civil British Falcon 20 (from FR Aviation) flew mission in the Electronic Counter Measures role, to disturb electronic communication between the aircraft and between the aircraft and the ground stations.

German Tornado’s
When each foreign country sent 4 to 6 aircraft to Decimomannu, the number of German Tornado’s at the flightline at was around 18. This a much higher number than the other participants. The reason for this high number was that the German Airforce hired the Air Combat Maneuvers Instrumentation (ACMI) range near Deci for it’s own spring exercise until the midst of May. These German Tornado’s flew their own missions separated from the missions of Spring Flag. Only 2-4 aircraft per day were available for actual Spring Flag missions. The German exercise was a preparation for the upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.

The exercise lasted 2,5 weeks, from April 1st until April 18th. Between April 01 and April 04 the participating aircraft arrived at their bases and the flew some familiarization missions to get acquainted with the Italian base and airspace. From Monday April 07th until Thursday 17th the real exercise took place with daylight missions in the first week and nightflying missions during the second week. Each flying day one official mission was flown in the morning; during the afternoon the pilots flew informal missions against other aircraft, out of scope of the exercise.

While the fighter jets flew their fighter missions, the helicopters flew their specific helicopter missions. CSAR missions were flown by the HH-3F’s and the AB-212, both types armed with side mounted machine guns, whereby the jets supplied the aircover during the operations. ‘Missing pilots’ were recovered after their faked crashes over enemy territory. And special commando troops were inserted in a hostile area and later recovered by the large transport helicopters.

Objectives for this exercise
Two command and control centers Joint Force Air Component Command (JFACC) at Poggio Renatico and Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) in Bari Palese organize and control this exercise. These two centers plan the daily missions and they evaluate the results afterwards.

“The main objective of the Exercise, organized and managed by the COFA (Comando Operativo Forze Aeree) in Poggio Renatico (Ferrara), is to verify the capabilities of the Italian (and participating) air forces to plan and conduct complex operative missions, on both national or "out of the area" scenarios. The SF focuses not only on COMAO (Combined Air Operations) and TASMO (Tactical Air Support to Maritime Operations) but also on MEDEVAC (MEDical EVACuation) and CASEVAC (CASualties EVACuation) missions, CSAR (Combat Search And Rescue) and Special Operations support. The aim of the exercise, is to verify the capability of the Italian Air Force to build a block air operations, train and prepare it to operate with necessary service support in order to conduct missions efficiently also far away from national borders. In this complex exercise environment, COFA develops command and control actions in a typical operation of multinational and joint scenarios for peace support”

In particular there has been simulated a crisis situation among different Nations with the subsequent intervention of a Coalition, so called 'Coalition of the Willings', under the authorization of the UN in order to restore the 'status quo' and guarantee cease-fire and respect of human rights for the threatened ethnic minority. The global scenario includes exercise phases, which complete the all kind of operations. To the exercise participate assets belonging to all major air wings of Italian Air Force and International Air Force units. Those forces are playing different roles according to the characteristic of the aircrafts and under the political guidance.

History of Spring Flag
In 2000 the Italian Air Force prepared it’s aircraft for participation in a full scale ‘Red Flag’ exercise an Nellis AFB in Nevada, USA. At a Red Flag exercise, some 80-100 aircraft take-off to perform a nearly true air war over the deserts of Nevada. This preparation was such a successful exercise, that is became an annual exercise, whereby many Italian and foreign aircraft participated each year.

Thanks to the Italian Air Force, Italian Air Force Public Affairs office, Spring Flag MOC (Media Operation Centre) and LtCol Alfonsi.

All photo's:
G.J.A. van Boven
H.P.A.M van Eupen
© Sentry Aviation News

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