An Italian Navy F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B fighter landed on the flight deck of the service’s flagship aircraft carrier ITS Cavour during operations in the Gulf of Taranto on July 30.
The F-35B that landed on the carrier is the third of its type assigned to the navy. It rolled off the assembly plant in Cameri, from where 90 F-35Bs, as well as F-35As, are to be delivered to the Italian Air Force and Navy. The first two Marina Militare F-35Bs are in the United States to support the training of Italian pilots.
The landing marked the culmination of a two-and-a-half year process, which began when the ship started preparations for an overhaul that would allow it to accommodate the fifth-generation fighter on its flight deck.
The work started in December 2018, and the ship relaunched in November 2019, before getting underway for F-35B trials in January 2021.
In March this year, the ship and its crew obtained their certification to operate the F-35B after four weeks of training off the US east coast.
By having an own F-35B land on its carrier in the Ionian Sea on Friday, the Italian Navy joined its US and UK counterparts as the only three services capable of operating the STOVL aircraft at sea.
They will however soon be joined by the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF), whose helicopter carrier JS Izumo recently concluded a modification to operate the F-35B jets. Like Italy, the UK and the US, Japan is also purchasing F-35B and F-35A jets, and is actually poised to become the second-largest operator of the type after the US.
Italy’s F-35Bs will replace the venerable AV-8B Plus Harriers, that have been in service with the Italian Navy since 1994. The navy expects to obtain the initial operational capacity (IOC) for F-35B by 2024 and, subsequently, the final operational capability, after the delivery of the last aircraft to the navy.