After the US and the UK, Italy will soon become the third country to fly the ‘world’s most-advanced’ F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters from an aircraft carrier. The country’s ‘Cavour’ carrier is set to undergo the first trials with the fifth-generation fighter jets.
Developed by American aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, the F-35 is often described as the most sought-after fighter on the planet because of its advanced avionics, stealth technology, and other modern features.
While Italy’s military already possesses an F-35 fleet, the ability to fly them off its aircraft carrier will be a crucial step towards further strengthening its military might.
On February 13, the Cavour aircraft carrier entered the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, USA before docking at Norfolk, which is the home port of the US Navy’s 2nd fleet.
The Cavour warship will now undergo trials of the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) for F-35B from its deck shortly. The process will be carried out in close cooperation with the US Navy and the Marine Corps.
Once there is a successful demonstration of the safe launch and recovery of the F-35 fighters off the aircraft carrier, the F-35B fighters will be declared “ready for operations” aboard the Cavour.
This will pave way for the beginning of flight deck workups with Italy’s F-35B fighter jets. These will be the first trials of stealth fighters onboard the Italian carrier.
However, the team will have to prove that the F-35 fighter jets can be operated safely off the carrier, while also ensuring that the Cavour and its facilities are completely compatible with them.
“Operating in the Western Atlantic with our NATO allies presents a mutually beneficial opportunity to enhance both of our navies’ capabilities,” said US Navy Vice Admiral Andrew Lewis, commander of the 2nd Fleet.
“Supporting our Italian allies in the certification of their aircraft carrier increases our collective experience in safety and combat abilities. We are stronger together.”
The cooperation between the navies of the two nations already began while the Cavour was in transit to the US.
— Navy Recognition (@NavyRecognition) February 14, 2021
The Italian aircraft carrier was joined by the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stout (DDG 55), following which the two spent three days performing maneuvers in the Atlantic Ocean.
The Cavour warship carried out operations with the US-made F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter jets from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7, and P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft from Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 11.
A statement released by the United States Navy said, “Specific events included integrated ship maneuvering, low-slow-flyer detect-to-engage, anti-surface warfare serials with P-8 participation, air defense/air intercept control event with F/A-18 participation, and C5I [command, control, communications, computers, combat systems, and intelligence] interoperability events.”
The Italian warships trials with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) are expected to be similar to the ones conducted by British Royal Navy’s HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier in 2018.
Notably, the Italian Navy will not be using any of its own F-35B fighter jets for the trials as the first two of its F-35B fighters (BL-1 and BL-2) are currently stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina, for crew training.
The Cavour is set to sail in the Western Atlantic and will be joined by US Marine Corps F-35B fighter jets belonging to the Integrated Test Force (ITF), which is based at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, USA.
When the Cavour arrived in Norfolk, the warship was “hosted” by US Navy’s Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74).
The crew of the US aircraft carrier will be responsible for the various services required by the Italian warship, including refueling, security, medical functions, and loading equipment and personnel.
Captain Cassidy Norman, the commanding officer of the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) aircraft carrier, said it was an exciting prospect to host the Italian carrier.
“We couldn’t be more excited to host our Italian ally. The Stennis team fully understands the importance of building trust and cooperation by supporting Cavour’s certification with the newest multirole combat aircraft, the F-35,
“We are happy to see our Italian naval aviation counterparts dramatically increase their operational capability, strengthening our collective capability,” added Norman.
The trials of the F-35Bs on the Cavour will involve test pilots and flight-test engineers from the ITF at Patuxent River. Besides, two specially instrumented developmental flight test aircraft will also travel on the ship.