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Italy readies LHD Trieste for 2023 delivery, expands F-35 operations

2nd June 2022 - 13:30 GMT | by Giovanni Rasio, Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo in London and Sicily

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The LHD Trieste seen during sea trials in August 2021. (Photo: Italian Navy).

Once commissioned with the Italian Navy, the Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) Trieste will be the largest vessel in the fleet, displacing 33,000t, and the second capable of operating the F-35B.

The Italian Navy’s future LHD Trieste, which was launched in May 2019, is currently undergoing sea trials and is expected to be delivered in early 2023.

Although classified as an LHD, Trieste will effectively be Italy's second aircraft carrier, featuring a ski jump that allows the ship to operate the Lockheed Martin F-35B.

The surface of the flight deck is already fitted with a special coating to withstand the high temperatures of the F-35’s engine exhaust. By contrast, the ITS Cavour – the flagship of the Italian Navy – had to undergo intense maintenance and modernisation works to integrate the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

As of June 2022, Trieste lacked the ALIS/ODIN logistic support system and JPALS landing system required to operate the F-35 from an aircraft carrier. However, the software can be integrated at a later time.

Pictures have emerged online depicting Trieste with the brand-new Leonardo KRONOS Power Shield radar. This is an early warning AESA radar for anti-tactical ballistic missile use that will potentially also be fitted onboard the future Italian DDX destroyer.

Italy is set to receive 30 F-35Bs that will be split between the air force and navy. The latter has already one JSF  embarked onboard Cavour, with two more currently deployed in the US for training purposes, while the air force has received three aircraft.

The two services are already jointly operating the F-35B platform. In images from May's Mare Aperto 2022, the largest exercise of the Italian Navy, one air force F-35 was also seen operating from the flight deck of the Cavour.

Two F-35Bs were embarked on board the ITS Cavour during Mare Aperto 2022 – an Italian Air Force aircraft on the right side and a navy JSF to the left. (Photo: Italian Navy)

Italy is one of three countries in NATO to have ordered the F-35B alongside the US and UK. In November 2021, Cavour and HMS Queen Elizabeth carried out joint flight activities, with cross-deck operations between the two flagships.

UK Chief of Defence Staff Adm Sir Tony Radakin said during the 2022 Sir John Slessor Memorial Lecture, held at the House of Commons on 16 May, that the F-35 will be a crucial system for further enhancing the cooperation between the RN and the Italian Navy.

With France operating its Rafale from the Charles de Gaulle, the UK and Italy are the only European countries to field a fifth-generation aircraft from a carrier.

Italy was also one of eight countries contributing maritime capabilities to the recently concluded Neptune Shield 2022 (NESH 22) series of activities in the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Baltic seas. 

NESH 22 saw the handover of command and control of the USS Harry S Truman Carrier Strike Group (CSG) and Combined Task Force 61/2 to NATO for the second time since the end of the Cold War. 

Speaking to Shephard, the commanding officer of the Harry S Truman, Capt Gavin Duff, confirmed that Italy had provided the Cavour, the destroyer Andrea Doria and the frigate Alpino to take part in the exercise.

Additional reporting by Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo, Milan

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