May 24, 2012 (by Asif Shamim) - On May 23, 37° Stormo at Trapani held a farewell ceremony for the completion of the "Peace Caesar" program which ended the lease of US built F-16 fighters that had been in service with the Italian airforce for the past nine years defending the countries airspace.
AMI F-16A ADF #MM7253 from 18 gruppo is seen landing at Aviano AB on May 29th, 2009. Note the painted & well used travel pod.
The cermony was hosted by Chief of Air Staff Air Force General Giuseppe Bernardis, with attendance of the Commander of the Air Force, Air Force General of Titian Tosi, and other civil, military and representatives from the U.S. Government.
General Giuseppe Bernardis, stressed during in his speech, the successful use of the F-16 fighter. "It was an exciting decade, a decade where our staff had worked exceptionally well and with determination", adding that "Trapani and 37° Stormo retain importance critical to the Air Force and the Italian defensive system.
The success of the program was also highlighted by the General of the Air Force Titian Tosi who said that "the original request after the decision to acquire the F-16 was the right one, and is why 37 Stormo continues to exist in a strategic importance role for the Air Force and the defense of the country. A role based on the knowledge that the skills acquired in all these years can not be dispersed, but must be capitalized to enrich the entire operational area assigned to the Air Force Command".
Colonel Mauro Gabetta, Commander of 37 Wing, spoke about the experience gained with the F-16 aircraft, stressing that "the F-16 program was a success because it allowed us to optimize the resources of the defense in a particularly critical period in our history: it was a necessary tool to replace the F-104 Starfighter and act as a stop gap before the new European Eurofighter aircraft became fully operational".
Referring to the recent use of the F-16 in Libya, Colonel Gabetta added that "the operation in Libya has highlighted the Air Force's ability to adapt to changing needs and be fully integrated and highly interoperable with other Nations, and the high professionalism of the men and women of 37 Wing and the Air Force. "
During the nine years of service in Italy
the F-16 was used on a daily basis for the defense of national airspace.
As part of its regular duties the F-16 has helped defend the skies over Italy during important events such as: Operation Jupiter, held on the occasion of the inauguration of the pontificate Benedict XVI, the Winter Olympics in Turin in 2006 & Operation Giotto 2009 - the G8 summit in L'Aquila.
In 2011, the F-16 have participated in operations "Odyssey Dawn" and "Unified Protector", contributing to the implementation of the no-fly zone over the skies of Libya to protect civilians and the most populated areas of the country.
The "Peace Caesar" program started back on March 15, 2001 with the signing between Italy and the United States Foreign Military Sale, for a contract 34 F-16s, which would remain the property of the United States and would be returned after use. The contract also provided the training of pilots and technicians in the U.S. at the 162nd Tactical Fighter Wing Air National Guard in Tucson, with full logistical support.
Of the 34 specimens, 30 were the ADF
version (Advanced Day Fighter) and four OCU versions (Operational Conversion Unit). The first three F-16s arrived at Trapani June 28, 2003.