Airpower in Shaping a Way Ahead in European Defense


By Robbin Laird

In this first article in my series highlighting my recent discussion with BG (Retired) Preziosa. we discussed the importance of enhanced cooperation among European states in delivering integrated combat power in times of crisis.

In that initial piece Preziosa warned that both the new NATO and EU strategies are not focused on the nature of today’s strategic competition being posed by China and Russia, which requires ongoing engagement in dealing with countering actions, rather than simply preparing a deterrent posture.

Airpower because it is rapid and can have a decisive combat effect can operate to deal with crises  more effectively and decisively to deliver a crisis management effect or affect than more slow moving movement of other types of  combat power.

We continued our discussion:

We first met in October 2013 in your office in Rome. We met several times over the next three years as you were leading the effort to introduce the F-35 into the Italian Air Force and Navy. In the first interview we did you highlighted the relationship between airpower and strategic change.

“Partnerships are changing; continents are working to get closer and to work more effectively with one another.  But there is a governability shortfall in managing the new challenges, and in such areas of shortfall the problems appear.  There are continuing conflicts within and among continents but there are also new patches of emerging challenges within the seams of the global system whereby terrorists, organized crime or forces of instability grow and disrupt.”

“With the range and distance of erupting threats, and the need for global cooperation or coalitions to deal with them, airpower needs to be modified.

“We now need to have assets which operate in a distributed manner with coalitions engaged to deal rapidly with problems.  The advantage of airpower is its reach, speed and mobility.  The challenge is to coalesce capabilities to put resources rapidly up against threats and challenges early enough to deal with them.”

That seems to me a pretty good forecast – looking back how would you describe the change in Europe since then, and what role for airpower?

BG (Retired) Preziosa: I wrote a book with the economist Dario Velo The Defense of Europe in 2019 proposing that more than ever we needed European defense.

“We needed to believe and pursue concrete actions to find a true and credible European identity, an identity that in the light of the latest events in the Middle East- Libya, Syria, and  Iraq — was also required by all the major international actors since the fluctuating foreign policy pursued by the U..S and the authoritarian powers.

“To reverse the course, it was necessary that Europe quickly recovers a strong political initiative and a lost identity.

“This proposal anticipated the result of the European Council which based on the proposal of President Macron and Merkel put on Agenda an intergovernmental Conference on the future of Europe. Among the issues was the projected and key role that the eurozone will have to play in the hot areas of the world, from the Middle East to North Africa. The Conference on the Future of Europe has been closed recently waiting now for further actions.

“In the Ukraine crisis today, the EU can offer little in term of face of the re-emergence of military threat close to its border, beyond economic retaliation and the usual condemnation and choruses of indignation.

“Europe must still form and define its dimension of defense. And in such a role airpower is crucial.

“The role of the Airpower will be persistent and enduring in this century. Air superiority will still be a pre-requisite for all operations to succeed.

“At the strategic level, national security has become completely reliant on rapid power projection provided by air power and with new hypersonic armaments the air power will be even more significant in shaping options.

“At the operational level, air power can now deliver the desired effects with minimum collateral damage.  At the tactical level, computing, sensing, and sharing data, will continue to change the way to do the war.

“The future of air power will be shaped by UCAV and ML/AI capabilities.

“Joint Air Power will need to evolve and adapt to meet the future security environment challenges, considering the use of cyber and space as enablers and force multipliers as well.

“In other words, working more coordination in the use of European airpower is a key part of the way ahead for European defense.”

We then turned to the question of a specific aspect of European airpower, namely, the emergence and thriving of the F-35 global enterprise.

I asked BG (Retired) Preziosa, as a key player in enabling such an enterprise how he saw the potential for the European partners in the F-35 program to shape more capability from the force and how important is such a development from your point of view?

BG (Retired) Preziosa: “I think that under the NATO leadership the European’s F 35 could develop more capabilities needed for the European landscape to increase deterrence and defense.

“F 35 is the only aircraft capable to respond to Anti-Access/Area Denial strategy.

“There are many European countries that acquired F 35 as a replacement of the fourth-generation aircraft.  All F35 aircraft in Europe could develop under NATO command the capability to face the threat stated in the new NATO Strategic Concept.

“F35 could be the new standard for the air forces to guarantee standardization, interoperability and efficiency when deployed in the theatre.

“By the way, NATO still lacks the common sense of urgency to collectively solve the Joint Air Power shortfalls and Nations embark on projects based on their national interests, not what is most needed in NATO.

“The short-term focus is important because recent developments in the security environment around Europe shows the importance of a high readiness and preparedness and the availability of the full range of essential joint airpower capabilities and competencies to deter and defend against Russia within the full spectrum of threats.”

I would add to our discussion that to get the point where integrability is highlighted and kill web capabilities enabled, further development in how European air forces work F-35 integration is required as well as how the U.S. forces work their own F-35 aircraft.

I projected such an approach in what I called F-35 2.0, a challenge not yet met or certainly fully meet.

Featured Graphic:Photo 3628255 © Maurizio Callari |

See, also, the following:

The War in Ukraine and the Challenge of Reshaping European Direct Defense

An Update on the Evolution of Airpower: A Discussion with Lt. General Preziosa on the Way Ahead for the Italian Air Force (Updated With Italian Translation)

Airpower, Italy, Europe and the Way Ahead: Lt. General Preziosa Looks at the Challenges

And given Italy’s focus on Mediterranean security, the opportunity to work with the various F-35 partners in operating in the region is a key part of defense of the Italian defense perimeter. For example, one might note that for the first time the Italians and the Israelis are training together with regard to their F-35s.

As a July 26, 2022 article in The Aviationist noted:

“This exercise follows the Falcon Strike 2021 exercise held in Italy last year, which saw Israeli F-35s deploying to Amendola Air Base, home of the 32° Stormo (Wing) and the 13° Gruppo, for their first-ever overseas deployment. The drills, in that occasion, saw the participation of F-35s from five different air arms: Italian Air Force F-35A and B; RAF F-35B, U.S. Air Force F-35A, U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs and Israeli Air Force F-35I Adir.”