Due to its central geographic location in Southern Europe and the Mediterranean, Italy has historically been home to myriad peoples and cultures. In addition to the various ancient peoples dispersed throughout what is now modern-day Italy, the most predominant being the Indo-European Italic peoples who gave the peninsula its name, beginning from the classical era, Phoenicians and Carthaginians founded colonies mostly in insular Italy, Greeks established settlements in the so-called Magna Graecia of Southern Italy, while Etruscans and Celts inhabited central and northern Italy respectively. An Italic tribe known as the Latins formed the Roman Kingdom in the 8th century BC, which eventually became a republic with a government of the Senate and the People. The Roman Republic initially conquered and assimilated its neighbours on the Italian peninsula, eventually expanding and conquering parts of Europe, North Africa and Asia. By the first century BC, the Roman Empire emerged as the dominant power in the Mediterranean Basin and became a leading cultural, political and religious centre, inaugurating the Pax Romana, a period of more than 200 years during which Italy's law, technology, economy, art, and literature developed. Italy remained the homeland of the Romans and the metropole of the empire, whose legacy can also be observed in the global distribution of culture, governments, Christianity and the Latin script.
During the Early Middle Ages, Italy endured the fall of the Western Roman Empire and barbarian invasions, but by the 11th century numerous rival city-states and maritime republics, mainly in the northern and central regions of Italy, rose to great prosperity through trade, commerce and banking, laying the groundwork for modern capitalism. These mostly independent statelets served as Europe's main trading hubs with Asia and the Near East, often enjoying a greater degree of democracy than the larger feudal monarchies that were consolidating throughout Europe; however, part of central Italy was under the control of the theocratic Papal States, while Southern Italy remained largely feudal until the 19th century, partially as a result of a succession of Byzantine, Arab, Norman, Angevin, Aragonese and other foreign conquests of the region. The Renaissance began in Italy and spread to the rest of Europe, bringing a renewed interest in humanism, science, exploration and art. Italian culture flourished, producing famous scholars, artists and polymaths. During the Middle Ages, Italian explorers discovered new routes to the Far East and the New World, helping to usher in the European Age of Discovery. Nevertheless, Italy's commercial and political power significantly waned with the opening of trade routes that bypassed the Mediterranean. Centuries of rivalry and infighting between the Italian city-states, such as the Italian Wars of the 15th and 16th centuries, left Italy fragmented and several Italian states were conquered and further divided by multiple European powers over the centuries.
By the mid-19th century, rising Italian nationalism and calls for independence from foreign control led to a period of revolutionary political upheaval. After centuries of foreign domination and political division, Italy was almost entirely unified in 1861, establishing the Kingdom of Italy as a great power. From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, Italy rapidly industrialised, namely in the north, and acquired a colonial empire, while the south remained largely impoverished and excluded from industrialisation, fuelling a large and influential diaspora. Despite being one of the four main allied powers in World War I, Italy entered a period of economic crisis and social turmoil, leading to the rise of the Italian fascist dictatorship in 1922. Participation in World War II on the Axis side ended in military defeat, economic destruction and the Italian Civil War. Following the liberation of Italy the country abolished their monarchy, established a democratic Republic and enjoyed a prolonged economic boom, becoming a highly developed country.
Italy is one of the nations that can boast some of the oldest traditions in the field of aviation. As far back as 1884, in fact, the Regio Esèrcito was authorised to equip itself with its own air component, the Servizio Aeronautico, based in Rome. In 1911, during the Italo-Turkish war, Italy employed aircraft, for the first time ever in the world, for reconnaissance and bombing missions. As a result of Benito Mussolini, who wanted Italy to become a world power, the Regia Aeronautica was born on 23 March 1923. During the thirties the Regia Aeronautica was involved in its first military operations, initially in Ethiopia in 1935, and later in Spain between 1936 and 1939. After a period of neutrality, Italy entered World War II on 10 June 1940 alongside Germany, in which the Regia Aeronautica could deploy more than 3.000 aircraft, of which less than 60% were serviceable. The Regia Aeronautica fought from the icy steppes of Russia to the sand of the North Africa dessert losing men and machines. After the armistice of 8 September 1943, Italy divided itself into two, and the same fate befell the Regia Aeronautica. The end of the hostilities, on 8 May 1945, opened the gates to the rebirth of military aviation in Italy.
A referendum resulted in the proclamation of Italy as a Republic on 18 June 1946, and in parallel the Regia Aeronautica was transformed into the Aeronautica Militare (AM) - the title that it holds today. The Paris Peace Treaty of 1947 placed severe restrictions on the Italian armed forces, but membership of NATO in 1949 opened the way for modernisation of the AM. The American military aid through the Mutual Defence Assistance Programme saw the arrival of P-51 Mustang and P-47 Thunderbolt piston-engined fighters. Later in 1952 the best aircraft of the period, F-84G, F-86E(M) and F-84F fighters and C-119 transports came to Italy. Not content to see foreign-designed aircraft serving the AMI, the reborn Italian aviation industry began the develop and produce aircraft of its own like the Fiat G91, Aermacchi MB326, Piaggio P166 and the line of Agusta-Bell helicopters. The sound-barrier by the AMI was broken with the introduction of the Lockheed F-104G Starfighter, constructed under licence by Fiat. The de-cade of the Seventies witnessed the acquisition of the Aeritalia G222 and Lockheed C-130, which renewed the transport fleet, and the Lockheed-Aeritalia F-104S, a fighter-variant of the Starfighter developed specifically to meet the requirements of the Italian de-fence system.
The drive to improve and expand the aircraft industry led Italy in the programme of the Panavia Tornado and the development and introduction of the AMX, this later with Embraer of Brazil. In 1990, following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Italy joined the coalition forces and for the first time in 45 years Italian pilots and aircraft were tasked with military wartime operations. Further crises were going to require the intervention of the Italian forces in Somalia, Mozambique, and in the Balkans. The conflict in the former Yugoslavia, only a few minutes flying time from the Italian borders, saw a need to improve the future air defence. As a stopgap and as replacement for leased Tornado ADV interceptors, the AM have leased also 30 F-16A Block 15 ADF and four F-16B Block 10 Fighting Falcon. This ‘Peace Ceasar’ program ended in 2012 with the most surviving examples returned to storage at AMARC.
Nowadays the AM is a prominent user of the Eurofighter T/F-2000A with a total of 95 examples of 81 single and 14 two seaters. Already in 2004, the first examples were delivered to the AM. Stationed at four bases (Trapani, Grosseto, Gioia del Colla and Istrana), the Eurofighter plays a vital role in the Italian Air Defence system. Besides defending Italian skies, the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) T/F-2000s also supports NATO and the Baltic Air Policing missions.
Besides the F-2000A/B Eurofighter, the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II is the second asset of the so-called spearhead of the AM. Deliveries of both the F-35A as F-35B are going on from the Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility at Cameri (NO). The southern air base Amendola (Foggia) with its 13° Gruppo is already operational, while the first examples of the 6° Gruppo, as replacement of the ageing Tornados, are delivered to Ghedi air base.
In spite of the fact that the very first Italian pilot was a Navy Officer, Mario Calderara, the Italian Navy was always very handicapped of not having its own Naval Aviation. Under Italian law dating from 22 February 1937, all military aircraft were operated by the Regia Aeronautica, although during World War II the Regia Marina had several "Squadriglie" at its disposal. After the Italian Armistice at 8 September 1943, the priorities were given to re-equip the fighter units. A referendum resulted in the proclamation of Italy as a Republic on 18 June 1946, and in parallel the Regia Marina was transformed into the Marina Militare (MM) - the title which it holds today.
But the MMI were initially hindered by the lack of priority, and outdated existing legislation. After the Italian participation in NATO, the MMI was looking at their NATO colleugues` Naval Air Power and the development of anti-submarine operations. The Aeronautica Militare (AM) had been operating the S2C-5 Helldiver since september 1950, and a second batch was due for delivery under the Mutual Defense Assistance Act (MDAP). When they were delivered to Cabaniss Field (Corpus Christi), the then present and training personel of the MMI immediately painted them with the MMI insignia and coded them 101 and 102! As a result, an inter-service battle had developed for the aircraft. At least they got back to the AMI, but the need for aircraft for the MMI was obvious. The Stato Maggiore MMI was then involved in formulating fixed wing ASW operational requirements, and later acquired the PV-2 and S-2F Tracker, although an intermediate attempt to obtain Neptunes failed.
While the MM were slowly acquiring fixed-wing experience, albeit not completely to its satisfaction, the other NATO naval partners were beginning to discover the value of the helicopter. After the forming of the first helicopter unit by the AMI, the MM formed on 1 August 1956 the 1°Gruppo Elicotteri at Augusta with two AB47G's.
Despite being an excellent helicopter, the AB47 was somewhat limited in its operations, so the MM required a larger and more flexible machine and during March 1959 two HSS-1 were disembarked at Brindisi. The type was followed by the ordering an initial batch of eightteen AB204AS helicopters. The MM suffered a major setback on 31 October 1964 when a tornado struck the base at Catania with fourteen helicopters damaged or written-off. During 1967 24 SH-3D´s were ordered, with the first by Agusta licence-built SH-3D's entered service in 1968. They were followed by the delivery of the AB212ASW in 1976 as a replacement of the outdated AB204AS.
The Marina Militare interest in the Harrier began in 1967 with a flight demonstration aboard the anti submarine helicopter carrier Andrea Doria, but it would be another 22 years before an order was placed. The main problem was inter-service rivalry and a 1937 Italian law which prohibited the MM from operating fixed wing aircraft, that to be the domain of the air force. The navy was subsequently able to fly helicopters, but only because they did not exist when the legislation was introduced and were therefore not covered by it.
Various proposals for the MM to buy Harriers were promulgated over the years but the service forced the issue in 1983 with the launch of the helicopter carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi. This incorporated a 6.5° ski ramp on the end of a full length flight deck and the intention was clear. Officially, the ramp was described as being a device to 'protect the flight deck from excessive spray'! A change to the law was proposed in 1985 but it wasn't until January 1989 that a new law was passed, allowing aircraft with a maximum weight of over 1,500 kg to fly with the MM.
The MM had meanwhile been carrying out a lengthy evaluation of the Sea Harrier and AV-8B Harrier II, with an initial order for two TAV-8B two seaters placed in May 1989 with McDonnell-Douglas. This was quickly followed with a contract for 16 AV-8B Plus aircraft. The two seaters and first three single seaters were built in the USA but the remaining 13 were delivered in kit form for assembly in Italy by Alenia. An option was placed on a further eight aircraft but this had not been taken up by the time the AV-8B production line closed. Deliveries began in April 1994 and the first landing on the Giuseppe Garibaldi was recorded in November 1994, more than a decade after the ship had been launched. The first Italian assembled Harrier rolled off the line in late 1995.
The most important current programme is the introduction of the NH90. The Marina Italiana has ordered a total of 56 NH90s, ten of which will be configured for tactical transport and 46 for naval operations, as a replacement of the AB212ASW, which will be withdrawn from use in 2012.
The air element of the Esercito Italiano, then named Nucleo Aviazione Leggera, was formed at the Scuola dell'Arma di Artiglieria at Bracciano on 24 April 1951. The new organisation started with second hand Stinson L5's from the Italian Air Force and Piper L-18C and L-21B's delivered under the MDAP programme wearing civil markings as a result from the outcoming of World War II.
The first major step forward was a change in the law that made it possible to utilise military aircraft, both helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. The first helicopters, AB47G's, arrived in 1956. On 31 december 1959 the Aviazione Leggera dell' Esercito (ALE) as an independent force within the Esèrcito Italiano was formed with its headquarters in Rome and directly reporting to the Stato Maggiore Esèrcito.
Redesignated Aviazione dell' Esercito (AvEs) in 1993, the air component was inserted into the Arma di Cavalleria on 1 june 1999, changing its name yet again. This time changed in Cavalleria dell'Aria on 1 january 2000. In November 2003 it was changed again, this time back to Aviazione dell' Esercito, but both designations are still used.
At present, the principal programmes cover the upgrading of the A129 fleet, the acquisition of a new Tactical Transport Helicopter NH90, which will be assigned as a priority to the Brigata Aeromobile Friuli and an aircraft in the class of the new AB-139 as future Combat Support Helicopter The NH90 and the new Combat Support Helicopter will completely replace the AB205, AB212 and AB412. In a period of some ten years, the Aviazione dell' Esercito will have standardised on four types of operational helicopters (A129, NH90, the new Combat Support Helicopter and CH-47) against the present seven.
The new structure features the establishment of four principal areas. These comprimise a Forza di Manovra with:
the Brigata Aeromobile Friuli Supporti (Support), consisting of all the other operational flying units;
Formazione (Training), represented by the Centro Cavalleria dell'Aria;
Logistica (Logistics), comprising four Reggimenti di Sostegno