Italy is helping fill the gap in the suppression of enemy air defense role over Libya, with four SEAD Tornado ECR involved in the operation.
Despite restrictive rules of engagement to avoid hurting bystanders, Italian Gen. Biagio Abrate, the chief of the joint defense staff, confirms the Tornados are authorized to fire their HARM missions, not just in self-defense roles but also to suppress radars. The Tornado ECRs have the ability to more precisely target HARM missiles than some other aircraft capable of shooting the anti-radar weapon. The Tornado ECRs provide the only European capability to refine HARM targeting; Germany also operates the aircraft, but is refusing to participate.
The Tornado ECRs are being escorted by four Italy F-16 Block 15s for protection against air threats (although Libya has not had any aircraft flying since the commencement of military operations).
Italy also has cleared partners to base their assets at a variety of facilities, including Gioia del Colle and Amendola in Puglia, Aviano in northeastern Italy, Trapani and Sigonella in Sicily, and Decimomannu in Sardinia. Other bases could be used as many additional allied aircraft are reaching Italy. The NATO CAOC in Poggio Renatico is also fully operational, with other C4I installations heavily involved
Meanwhile, the Italian air force has put its own air defense system on alert, including fixed and mobile radars, as well as Eurofighter Typhoon fighters; the latter are ready to be scrambled within 15 min. from Gioia del Colle and Trapani.
The air force is also deploying Spada point defense anti-aircraft batteries to protect the main operating bases.
In terms of direct threats to Italy, planners see a slight potential of threat from aircraft, but little from ballistic missile. Instead, Italian defense minister Ignazio La Russa says the most serious threat is likely from terrorism, so internal security forces have been moved to higher alert levels, with key infrastructure (including airports and train stations) receiving additional protection. There is also concern that the wave of illegal immigrants making their way into Italy could mask small terrorist cells.