Italy's aircraft carrier arrives in US for F-35B sea trials

The Italian Navy’s flagship aircraft carrier, ITS Cavour (CVH-550), arrived at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, on February 13 to conduct a series of sea trials with the F-35B Lightning II in the Western Atlantic.

While deployed in the US, a test team from the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) will embark on the recently-upgraded aircraft carrier to conduct a series of tests that will certify the Cavour’s ability to operate the F-35B. These sea trials are designed to establish a safe flight operating envelope for the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the Lightning II family, allowing the multi-role stealth fighter to operate from the vessel in the future.

ITS Cavour [US Navy/Capt Cassidy Norman]
The Italian Navy's flagship aircraft carrier, ITS Cavour (CVH-550), arrives at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia on February 13, 2021. The recently-upgraded vessel has deployed to the Western Atlantic to undergo sea trials with the STOVL-configured F-35B, with a goal of certifying the ship for Lightning II operations. US Navy/Capt Cassidy Norman

Andrew Maack, chief test engineer and site director with the F-35 Pax River Integrated Test Force (ITF), said: “Italy is a critically important Cooperative Program Partner in the F-35 enterprise. We are excited to get underway with the sailors of Cavour and honoured to contributed to the aircraft carrier achieving the Italian Navy’s strategic goal of it being ‘ready for operations.’ We look forward to a phenomenally successful shipboard detachment.”

During its time in the Western Atlantic, the ITS Cavour will also continue to operate alongside ships and aircraft from the US Navy’s 2nd Fleet to strengthen the interoperability and relationship between the two NATO allies. While transiting from Italy to the US, the Cavour joined the USS Stout (DDG-55) – an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer – to conduct a three-day interoperability exercise.

This exercise was supported by US Navy-operated Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet naval strike fighters from Carrier Air Wing 7 (CVW-7) and Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft from Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 11 (CPRW-11). A press release from the US Navy noted that the activities during the exercise focused on air defence/intercept control, integrated ship manoeuvring, anti-surface warfare, low-slow-flyer detect-to-engage operations and command, control, communications, computers, combat systems and intelligence (C5I) interoperability.

F-35B [Lockheed Martin]
A USMC-operated F-35B prepares to land aboard the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6) on October 28, 2016. Note that this variant of the Lightning II exploits Rolls-Royce’s innovative LiftSystem to provide its short take-off and vertical landing capability. The F-35B will be deployed aboard a number of vessels, including Italy's ITS Cavour and the UK's Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers. Lockheed Martin

In the press release, the commander of the ITS Cavour, Capt Giancarlo Ciappina, said: “We are deeply grateful for the warm welcome received by the US Navy 2nd Fleet upon our arrival in Western Atlantic waters. My officers and the whole crew were impressed [with] the professionalism and seamanship shown during these three days of training by the crews of [the] USS Stout, CVW-7 and CPRW-11.

“We consider [it] a real privilege having the opportunity to sail and exercise alongside our closest allies and friends and we are very proud to share with the US Navy community such [an] important certification deployment, which will provide [the] ITS Cavour and the Italian Naval Aviation with the fifth-generation air combat capability of the Joint Strike Fighter.”