23 Gruppo was the second of the Italian squadrons to be re-equipped with the F-16. Unlike the other two squadrons – which are based at Trapani-Birgi, which is situated in Sicily – this squadron is based at Cervia AB, which is situated near the Adriatic Sea in the north of Italy. The F-16s replaced the venerable F-104S ASA-M in the interceptor role. The F-16s are leased from the United States for an initial period of 5 years, with an extension period for another 5 years. This extension makes it possible to make a smooth transition to the Eurofighter Typhoon, which is the intended replacement of the F-104 within the AMI.
AMI F-16A ADF #MM7245
from 23 gruppo is seen taking off from Kleine Brogel on July 16th, 2007. [Photo by Karen Justl]
The F-16s in the squadrons are all ADF version. This was done intentionally because the aircraft only have interception duties. They could be made available by the USAF quickly without having to undergo extensive modification or upgrade programs before becoming operational.
Besides their national QRA duties, the F-16s of 23 Gruppo are also responsible for the aerial defense of Slovenia. This country became a NATO member in 2004 and does not possess any fighter aircraft itself. Therefore Italy took up the responsibility to defend this NATO airspace. This duty is performed from Cervia AB since the flying time from the air force base to Slovenian airspace is short – just passing the Adriatic Sea – and a real deployment to Slovenia itself wasn’t deemed necessary nor economically feasible.
The lease contract for the Italian F-16s is due to end in 2010. With their withdrawal being imminent, 23 Gruppo was disbanded on April 16th, 2010 and all remaining F-16s were centralised at Trapani-Birgi AB.