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Following 35 years of service, the Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militare) formally retired its last remaining AMX A-11 ‘Ghibli’ light combat and reconnaissance aircraft from service on April 5, 2024. The Italian term ‘Ghibli’ derives from the hot dry wind that blows in North Africa. This historic occasion was marked with a formal ceremony and flypast at Istrana Air Base in Northern Italy home to the 51st Wing (51º Stormo) and the last remaining squadron operating the type; 132nd Squadron (132° Gruppo). A special marked AMX aircraft was presented marking the end of an era for this diminutive, robust and combat proven aircraft. Brazil now remains the only operator of the type. Ian Harding takes a look back at the operational service of this striking little fast jet.

The aircraft’s development can be charted back to the early 1970’s when Italy was initially looking for a replacement for its Aeritalia G.91 and later, for a reconnaissance replacement for its Lockheed RF-104G Starfighter. Aeritalia (now Alenia Aeronautica) and Aermacchi joined forces in this development process rather than competing. This dynamic was to change in 1980 with the Brazilian Government looking to replace its Aermacchi MB-326 aircraft. The resulting collaboration would eventually see the manufacturing process shared to avoid duplication; Aeritalia (46.5%), Aermacchi (22.8%) and Embraer (29.7%). In total seven prototypes were produced for the flight test programme (again shared between the three manufacturers) with the maiden test flight taking place in Italy on May 15, 1984. The first Brazilian produced prototype flew on October 16, 1985. Full production commenced in Italy in 1988.

With the creation of the AMX International Consortium, the aspiration for all parties was that the AMX would achieve export sales outside Italy and Brazil but unfortunately these hopes never materialised. Having issued a requirement for 187 aircraft in 1977, the Italian Air Force eventually received 136 aircraft (110 single-seat A-11A and 26 twin-seat A-11B aircraft) with the first accepted by the Air Force in December 1988. Italian AMX would ultimately operate from four air bases at Amendola (32° Stormo), Istrana (51° Stormo), Rivolto (2° Stormo) and at Verona Villafranca (3° Stormo).  Operational Conversion took place at Istrana. The Brazilian Air Force would ultimately receive 56 aircraft (known now as the A-1AM/BM following upgrade). The aircraft remains operational with Ala 4 at Santa Maria Air Base (two squadrons – 1°/10° GAv and 3°/10° GAv) although the precise number remaining is unknown. 

Powered by a Rolls-Royce RB.168 Spey Mk 807 engine, 52 Italian AMX (42 A-11A’s and 10 TA-11B’s entered a major upgrade programme in 2005 as a consequence of its operations in the Balkans which had commenced in 1995 (Operation Deny Flight). Completed in 2012, this ‘Upgrade of Operational and Logistics Capabilities’ saw the aircraft receive new cockpit displays, Rafael RecceLite and Litening III reconnaissance and targeting pods (replacing its Orpheus system), night-vision goggles capability, inertial/GPS navigation, upgraded electronic warfare system, and new weapons capability. These included Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) and Elbit Lizard II and GBU-16 laser guided bombs. Now a more potent and capable aircraft, Italian AMX aircraft later fulfilled a variety of operational reconnaissance and Close Air Support roles from 2009 -2019 firstly in Afghanistan (as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)), and later over Libya in 2011 (Operation Unified Protector) and the Middle East from 2016-2019 (Operation Inherent Resolve).

Based on its service history, the AMX undoubtedly achieved a lot, although ultimately time had caught up with the type. It will always be remembered for its combat proven capability, reliability and dare we say simplicity. Current warfare has certainly become more complex with a requirement within NATO for multi-role capability, resulting in the increasing trend towards 4th and 5th generation fighters such as F-35, F-16, Gripen and Typhoon. 

It has been reported elsewhere that the AMX completed approximately 240,000 flight hours of which 18,500 flight hours were on operational service.

AeroResource would like to particularly thank the Aeronautica Militare for the use of the specially painted retirement AMX images.

You can find out more about the AMX retirement from the Aeronautica Militare here: https://www.aeronautica.difesa.it/2024/04/05/dopo-35-anni-dallentrata-in-servizio-si-congeda-il-jet-amx/

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