Italians celebrate success at China Lake

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Italians celebrate success at China LakeItalian Air Force Col. Marco Bertoli, commander of the “Blazing Shield” campaign at China Lake, in the cockpit of his Eurofighter. — U.S. Navy photo by Ron Rodriguez

------

China Lakers joined members of the Italian Air Force this week in celebrating the achievements in “Blazing Shield” — a celebration that marked the end of a 10-week exercise as well as the first deployment in what collaborators hope will be a long-lasting partnership between the local Navy installation and the allied military force.

“Since we are at the end of this campaign, I can tell you with no hesitation that we achieved our objectives here,” said Col. Marco Bertoli of the ItAF.

The detachment of 220 personnel arrived Feb. 7 — along with nine aircraft and 220 tons of equipment and other material — to complete operational testing and evaluation of the advanced anti-radiation guided missile (AARGM) on China Lake ranges.

Under Bertoli’s command, and with support from Naval Air Weapons Station, Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, the Anti-Radiation Missile Technical Project Office and the community, the detachment was able to successfully complete all its missions — including two live-fire tests.

“The live fires were kind of an emotional moment for all of us,” Bertoli said, noting that they were the ultimate validation of years of planning and support from numerous entities.

“I couldn’t have been happier,” said Jason Cushing, ARM TPO lead. “It exceeded our expectations across the board.”

He also commended the partnerships with other entities on the station. “I saw an unprecedented amount of cooperation among the different competencies here at China Lake. We knew this was a big undertaking — Italy was a big customer for us — and in all circumstances people have gone above and beyond to do things that were very challenging. And they made it look easy. It has been a pleasure to be a part of that.”

Cushing added that unlike typical Foreign Military Service customers that visit China Lake, Italy is a cooperative development partner on the AARGM program.

“A CDP is less common, but more strategically important,” said Cushing. “The main difference is that the Italian government actually paid into the development of the AARGM, rather than just buying an end item off the shelf.

“The expectation is that the partnership will continue.”

Bertoli said his detachment has enjoyed the industrial and training collaborations with the U.S. In addition to having a distinguished academic and military record, Bertoli was selected to lead the contingent in part because of his participation in other allied operations, including Red Flag at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

Training and collaborating with the U.S. is not new to Italian forces, he said, but his men and women were looking forward to visiting China Lake’s pristine ranges.

During their time here, they logged a cumulative 600 flying hours.

“The airspace here is huge,” said Bertoli. “As a matter of fact, the land range here in China Lake is one of the greatest, I believe, in the world. We were really looking forward to flying over this landscape, which allowed us to fly several different missions at the same time. From this point of view I think this airspace is one of the best in the world to fly in.”

Although Bertoli and his people worked Monday through Sunday most weeks, they had a few opportunities to take in some of the sights. “This cultural exchange was really nice. We are not used to the desert landscape in Italy, and we enjoyed sightseeing in the little spare time we had.”

Among the highlights of those rare moments of R&R was a party hosted on their arrival by the Ridgecrest Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“We really had a warm welcome when we first arrived here,” said Bertoli. “From that day on, all of my men and women felt interconnected with the people of Ridgecrest.”

The Italians returned that hospitality at the end of their campaign by treating their collaborators to an authentic (and reportedly delicious) Italian meal.

Both Bertoli and Cushing acknowledged the months of work leading up to and continuing through the visit — which contributed to the success of the campaign.

“When we first started to discuss hosting the Italians for an operational test event, we initially told them it would likely take 12-18 months to thoroughly plan and execute. We actually did it in about eight. That’s because there were a lot of people working really hard to make it happen,” said Cushing.

Bertoli also commended his team for coordinating everything — all mission-related logistics, lodging, food and travel considerations — all while being 6,000 miles from home.

What would he like to see on a return trip?

“Exactly the same warm welcome we received this time!” responded Bertoli.

Lt. Col. Nicola Minichini said that other purposes of the campaign included validating active and passive self-protection systems used in the Eurofighter and C27J, in order to develop the survival capability in high-density radio frequency threats in hostile areas.

“I want to thank all the people who supported us in achieving this great success,” said Bertoli. “Being at China Lake, being in Ridgecrest, was really great.”

Cushing added that local interests gained critical insights from the experience. “Just because we’ve been successful doesn’t mean we can’t do them better next time,” he said. “When we host our Italian friends once again, we’ll be even more prepared, and better positioned, to make them successful once again.”

Story First Published: 2018-04-20