NATO’s Tactical Leadership Programme 18-4: Amendola Air Base, Italy and Italian F-35s Shape a Way Ahead


By Robbin Laird

Normally, the TLP is held in Spain at Albacete Airbase.

We visited Albacete Airbase in 2016 and talked with Spanish Air Force pilots concerning their Eurofighter operations at the base.

As we noted at the time:

“Albacete flies a regular Quick Reaction Alert force to provide for Spanish security in the Mediterranean.

“The engagement in the Baltics is in effect a QRA mission further north.”

And earlier this summer the F-22 came to Albacete for the first time as the European Air Forces focus on the impact of fifth generation aircraft and on shaping ways to leverage fifth generation aircraft and to shape a fifth-generation enabled combat force.

In an article published on September 20, 2108, we highlighted the coming of the F-22 to Albacete and its impact.

In that article we provided a translation of an article on the Spanish Air Force website which described the first visit of the F-22 to Albacete in August 2018 and the workup on 5th gen operations with Spanish Eurofighters and F-18s.

This story was published on August 17, 2018 and was translated by SLD’s Chloe Laird as follows:

August 17th 2018

The F-22 for the First Time in Spain

Yesterday at the Albacete Air Base, there took place an advanced aerial training exercise, consisting of two USAFE Fifth Generation F22s, a couple of Eurofighter planes as well as some F-18s from the Spanish Air Force.

It was a great opportunity to evaluate the capabilities of the Albacete Air Base and of the Tactical leadership Program (TLP). 

The exercise demanded the participation of a 5th generation plane (i.e. the F-22s from the USAF).

Exercises of this sort create an excellent opportunity for instruction and training that allows a successful evaluation of the joint capabilities of the planes- in this case, two of North American manufacture and one of European origin. 

Each of them was placed in a demanding tactical environment.

The exercise consisted of two independent missions, both of them placed in the assigned flight zone for their specific purpose….

After the initial takeoff of the two Albacete Air Force Eurofighters, they took part of a mission with one of the F-22s. 

During the mission, they carried out different combat maneuvers, in light of the different characteristics of the fighter planes.

At the same time, an F-18 from the 12th Wing detached from Torrejón Air Base in order to meet with the second American F22 and carried out a similar mission.

Next the two Eurofighters from the 14th wing, on a mission of aerial police/enforcement, located a trace corresponding to the F-22 and were able to carry out maneuvers of interception for posterior identification.  

Before any sort of offensive action from the fighter planes, they carried out defensive maneuvers and of partner/paired coordination in order to maintain the enemy control zone. 

Once the work in each sector was completed, each American F-22 reunited with the assigned pair of Spanish Fighters and went on to land at Albacete Air Base.

 The next step is now being taken at Amendola Airbase.

In a story published on December 4, 2018 written by Senior Airman Malcolm Mayfield, 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs, this next step is described as follows:

AMENDOLA AIR BASE, Italy (AFNS) — Above the mountainous landscape of Amendola Air Base, Italy, F-15C Eagle pilots assigned to the 493rd Fighter Squadron are training side-by-side with NATO allies from Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium in support of Tactical Leadership Programme 18-4.

The month-long program gives participants a chance to see how others get the job done. TLP builds familiarization and strengthens interoperability within NATO through combined training in the classroom and in European airspace.

“Our methods may be different, but the end goal is all the same,” said an Italian Air Force F-35 pilot assigned to the 32nd Stormo. “We share a commitment to maintaining security and enhancing our air readiness within NATO. Training opportunities like TLP allow us to come together and learn from one another, giving us an edge in the future with a deep partnership to lean on.”

During the course, some pilots noticed more similarities than differences in how each country got things done. TLP is designed to bridge the gaps and help form cohesiveness between allies.

“Building partnerships here will make us more effective in the future,” said a 493rd FS flight commander. “There are a lot of similarities to the way we all operate, and exercises like this help us find those similarities and break down any language or cultural barriers that appear.”

The effectiveness cultivated by the training has molded NATO and allied forces’ flight leaders into the mission commanders of today, creating skilled and competent leaders able to tactically and operationally work within the NATO alliance.

“The program condenses the mission planning process and then adds everything that comes with working with our international partners,” said a 493rd FS flight commander. “We are constantly pulled in different directions and you have to learn how to prioritize and work effectively with the whole team.”

TLP is the focal point for NATO’s Allied Air Forces tactical training. The hundreds of NATO mission commanders developed by the program are able to lead coalition force air strike packages, instruct allied flying and non-flying personnel in matters related to tactical composite air operations, and provide tactical air expertise to NATO agencies.

This event marks the first time the course has been held in Italy, from its normal host location at Albacete Air Base, Spain.

And in preparation for TLP 18-4, the Italian Air Force declared its F-35s to be operational.

In an article by David Cenciotti published by The Aviationist on December 1, 2018, the author noted that the Italian Air Force is the first Air Force in Europe to declare IOC for its first 35-A squadron.

On Nov. 30, 2018, during the media day of TLP 18-4 currently underway at Amendola, in southeastern Italy (the first iteration of the course to integrate 4th and 5th Gen. aircraft), the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) declared Initial Operating Capability with the F-35A Lightning II.

ItAF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Alberto Rosso broke the news:

“Today is an important day for the Italian Air force. With the Initial Operational Capability we are the first in Europe to achieve a real operational capability with a 5th generation aircraft: it means we reached the capability with multiple aircraft, we have crews properly trained to operate the platform and a long term maintenance and logistic support”.

Indeed, the IOC certifies that the first Italian unit, the 13° Gruppo (Squadron), belonging to the 32° Stormo (Wing) based at Amendola, is ready for allied operations.

As Aeronautica Militare put it in an article published on November 21, 2018 about the TLP engagement in Italy:

“The joint participation of fourth and fifth generation aircraft provides a unique opportunity not only to facilitate standardization of the tactics, techniques and procedures of operating both generation of aircraft, but above all to exercise interoperability between the different generations or the the ability of  each system to cooperate, exchange or use information or services produced by the different fighters.

“The F-35 with is capabilities provide an incredible force multiplier and provides technologies which are able to enhance the relevance or capabilities of the other systems currently available in the armed forces.”1

The first slideshow above highlights the 48th Fighter Wing’s participation in the TLP training at Amendola Air base. And that engagement was described in a story published on November 23, 2018 by Senior Airman Malcolm Mayfield .

 F-15C Eagles assigned to the 493rd Fighter Squadron are continuously training at Amendola Air Base, Italy, and every sortie puts a toll on the aircraft. The constant dedication and skillful attention of the 493rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit keeps the Eagles in top form for the NATO Tactical Leadership Programme 18-4.

TLP is designed to help pilots develop tactical air expertise and leadership skills, but as a bi-product it gives maintainers a chance to use ingenuity and innovation to provide first-class support hundreds of miles away from their home station.

“Anytime we’re on the road, our job, maintenance wise, is to provide safe and reliable jets for the pilots to accomplish their mission, which here is joint training between some of our allies to develop a NATO mission commander,” said the 493rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit Officer in-charge. “Every new location presents a different challenge in how we get the job done, but the end goal for providing a safe jet for a pilot never changes. What does change is the environment in which we operate in.”

Within the year, the 493rd AMU has supported the fighter squadron on multiple trips to different countries including Iceland and Morocco. Each trip enhances the capabilities of the Airmen who participated, a fact that is clearly visible in their work ethic at TLP 18-4.

“Every TDY you go on is different, and it can be hard to start off,” said a dedicated crew chief assigned to the 493rd AMU. “It could be not having the parts we need on hand, or not knowing how the base operates to get the support we need. Over time you figure out how to acquire some of that on site, what to bring along yourself and how to solve a problem before it becomes one.”

The second slideshow above shows the various units involved on the Italian side during the TLP event.

These photos were provided by the Italian Air Force and can be found here.




  1. This article was found on our Italian partner’s website RD and the translation is ours with apologies to our Italian friends!