The Italian Air Force’s International Flight Training School
The Next Level of Training – Excellence for Military Pilots
By Colonel Gianfranco Liccardo, IT AF
Setting the Stage
The Italian Air Force’s (ITAF) world-renowned excellence for flight training and the Leonardo Company’s leadership in integrated-training solutions come together to create the brand new International Flight Training School (IFTS) in Italy. The announcement of this joint venture between the Italian Air Force and Leonardo was made on 17 July 2018 at the Farnborough International Airshow.
The IFTS’s objective is to consolidate the growth and the internationalization process already in place in the ITAF by increasing capacity and the range of courses available to foreign countries in order to satisfy a growing demand for advanced flight training from allied and partner air forces. The IFTS delivers advanced Phase IV (lead-in Fighter Training) courses using the ITAF training syllabus, to adequately prepare the student pilot to operate the 4th and 5th generation fighter aircraft.
The IFTS offers customized training modules, in line with the modern Air Force’s requirements, to best help the student pilot achieve the desired level of competence, further decreasing the amount of costly flight hours from Operational Conversion Units (OCU), saving time and valuable resources.
The IFTS is characterized by an international pool of military and former military instructor pilots, selected and trained following the ‘Train As You Fight’ principle. The school has a brand and vast experience the ITAF acquired over decades of training both national and international combat pilots.
Leonardo contributes to the new IFTS with four M-346 advanced-trainer aircraft that complement the existing 18 T-346 aircraft in the fleet. All aircraft are equipped with the Embedded Tactical Training System (ETTS), which is in service with some of the most demanding Air Forces, including Israel, Singapore, Poland and Italy. IFTS also operates a Ground Based Training System (GBTS) with full state-of-the-art training devices, including Full Mission Simulators and above all a fully operational and leading edge Live, Virtual, and Constructive (LVC) environment, for maximum cost-effectiveness. A key element of LVC is the option to interconnect multiple simulators to one or more T-346s in real-time flight. The ETTS technology on board the aircraft enables the simulation and utilization of various sensors, electronic countermeasures and armament. These modern tactical simulation techniques generate highly realistic virtual operational environments, which are fundamental to the advanced and pre-operational training process.
More precisely, the collaboration between the ITAF and Leonardo further exploits the training capabilities of the 61st Wing at Lecce-Galatina Air Base (Apulia Region) and has facilitated the establishment of a new IFTS at Decimomannu Air Base (Sardinia) to support the increasing number of international requests for advanced pilot training.
The Advanced Training
To understand what IFTS is about, it is important to discover what happens in Galatina where the Italian Air Force 61st Wing is located and where the essence of the international Phase IV training is already in place. Each day, the constant presence of foreign pilots, students and instructors, encourages the exchange of experience and enhances the courses, as does the modularity and flexibility of the training syllabus.
Sitting in one of the briefing rooms of the 212th Squadron, 61st Wing, we listen to the expert ITAF instructor provide students with a detailed explanation of today’s mission. ‘Dragon 74’ will face ‘Dragon 75’ and conduct a series of Basic Fighter Manoeuvres to gain an advantage during a simulated combat exercise. Once completed, the exercise will be repeated reversing the roles.
After receiving the latest updates about the mission in the operations room, the pilots go to the flight equipment room to gear up. A few minutes later they are conducting pre-flight checks on their assigned aircraft, which bear the patch logo of the IFTS on the tail fin.
Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR), use of Night Vision Goggles (NVG), Beyond Visual Range (BVR) engagements, Air-to-Ground range events and use of Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) are just some of the advanced operational skills that students can be provided with, through the use of M-346 jets and the sophisticated simulation devices. The number of flying jets used in multiple-aircraft scenarios and real-time events are fewer because of the possibility to connect, in real-time, the students flying the actual aircraft with students sitting in a Full Mission Simulator (FMS) inside the GBTS.
The 61st Wing is where the ITAF performs basic and advanced flying training for the Italian and international student pilots. By the end of 2020, with the arrival of the new M-345 used for Phase II and III basic training, Galatina will reach capacity. Activities related only to advanced Phase IV of the syllabus will then move gradually to Decimomannu Air Base in Sardinia (Italy).
Multiple factors make Decimomannu the optimal location for the IFTS. It has excellent infrastructure, including two runways suitable to accommodate a high volume of training flights. Near to the Air Base, multiple well-suited training areas are present for advanced training to cover any simulated scenario. Modern ranges to conduct air-to-air and air-to-ground live firing are within a few nautical miles, such as an Autonomous Air Combat Manoeuvering Instrumentation (AACMI) range and the Poligono Interforze del Salto di Quirra (PISQ), a high technology instrumented Air-to-Ground/Air-to-Air/Electronic Warfare (A/G-A/A-EW) range.
A logistics and maintenance centre is being constructed that will include a new maintenance hangar and a flight line intended for T-346 ground handling, a new GBTS that will comprise of classrooms, offices and space to accommodate two Partial Task Trainers and two Full Motion Simulators. A new residential area is being built for both students and instructors to include 100 apartments, a restaurant, officer’s club, sports facilities and a swimming pool. Construction work commenced in 2020 and the first advanced IFTS course for student pilots making use of the new structure at Decimomannu Air Base is planned for the beginning of 2022.
The IFTS, thanks to the ITAF’s extensive and consolidated flight training expertise and to Leonardo’s leadership in advanced integrated training systems, guarantees advanced, top level training for the modern air forces at reduced costs. In other words, the next level of training excellence for military pilots. In an era of expensive flying hours and reduced defence budgets, this military-industry partnership provides both an effective and affordable solution to keep aircrews at the peak of capability.
Colonel Gianfranco Liccardo
joined the Air Force Academy in 1995. In 1999 he received a Political Science degree and in 2001 completed pilot training at Sheppard AFB (USA). From 2002 to 2016 he was assigned to the 156th Sqn, flying the TORNADO and operating in Afghanistan (Operation ISAF), Lybia (Operation Unified Protection) and Iraq (Operation Inherent Resolve).
In 2017 he received a master’s degree in Strategic Studies and was responsible for ‘pilot training policy’ at the Aerospace Planning Department of the ITAF Air Staff. From 2018 he is also working at the IFTS Project Team as Deputy Chief.
He is a command pilot with more than 2,500 flying hours.