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Italian navy to deploy AW101s to Afghanistan

Italy will deploy three of its AgustaWestland AW101 amphibious support helicopters to Afghanistan in October for a 12-month tour of duty. The “Task Group Shark” detachment will involve aircraft from the navy’s 1st Helicopter Squadron at Luni, plus 55 personnel and an aeromedical evacuation team, assigned to the International Security Assistance Force’s Regional Command West structure. “We have a specific training and maintenance activity in progress, to prepare both crews and helicopters for the Afghan environment,” says Rear Adm Paolo Treu, commander of the Italian fleet air arm and director of its naval aviation department.

Pilots are being prepared for operations by using an Afghan database on simulators for the UK Royal Air Force’s AW101 Merlins in the UK. This work will be followed by “specific flight activity in Italian and European ranges to meet the demanding operational environment needs”, Treu says. The aircraft are meanwhile being equipped with improved ballistic protection, defensive aids equipment and 7.62mm machine guns. The navy has previously deployed Agusta-Bell AB212s and Sikorksy SH-3D Sea Kings to Afghanistan, but the high terrain and medical evacuation mission demands mean a more capable aircraft is required.

By Luca Peruzzi

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