English translation by Frank McMeiken
Al Bateen, on the southern border of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, is the hub around which revolves the transport of Italian personnel, equipment and spare parts from and to Afghanistan. Here the air links usually operated by civil airline companies on behalf of the Ministero della Difesa interchange with the C 130J of the 46^ Brigata Aerea, which performs the final part of the transfer to the base at Herat and the airport at Kabul.
Under the name of Nucleo Aeroportuale Interforze, NAI, the unit was created in September 2002 to provide the necessary support to the Italian contribution to Operation “Enduring Freedom” , and was structured as a Reparto Operativo Autonomo (Autonomous Operational Unit), later being re-designated as the 7° ROA. In 2006, prior to assuming its present designation of Task Force Air, TFA, it was temporarily known as the Reparto Distaccato della 46^ Brigata Aerea (Detached Unit of the 46^ Brigata Aerea). Operationing uninterrupted since back in 1992, currently, in support of ISAF operations, it guarantees the support the the transfer of a notable influx of personnel, suppiles and equipment inbound to and outbound from the Theatre of Operations, as well as ensuring the serviceability of the aircraft and transport systems, communications with Italy and the deployed components, and additionally manages aeromedical evacuation missions MEDEVAC (MEDical EVACuation).
In its organisational structure, the unit has some aspects of a standard Stormo, with a flying component comprising 2 to 3 C 130J of the 46^ Brigata Aerea at Pisa and a logistical and technical support element. Constituted by personnel drawn from the various armed forces and Corpi dello Stato, it performs an essential role in the network between the strategic and tactical dimensions of links between Italy and the operational theatres of Afghanistan, and, previously, Iraq. A significant level of activity was perform from the unit’s creation until 2011:more than 9,500 C 130J sorties, 60 medical evacuation missions, and around 230,000 personnel and 21,500 tonnes of supplies rotated through its hub.
The TFA is housed on the Al Bateen civilian airport, and manages the arrival, distribution, and temporary accommodation of personnel and aircraft in a specially prepared area, with ample air conditioned rooms to suited to temporary stop-overs, and service areas and hangars for the unloading and palletisation of the supplies destined for outbound transfer. The TFA and its personnel are also tasked with the movement of stores and personnel at other bases, such as those arrive via the port at Jebel in Dubai.
During the course of a trip in a C 130J from Al Bateen to Kabul, and subsequently on to the FSB (Forward Support Base) at Herat, we were able to see how the approach phases for landings always follow different routes and profiles, and how all the crew have the task of watching for possible threats from the ground, and passing warnings to the cockpit. In fact, during the descent phase, all the crew put on their anti-projectile jackets (giubbotti antiproiettile - GAP); the two crew members in the hold, positioned on two seats next to the armoured panels by the two lateral tail windows, kept a close watch on the area below and to the rear of the aircraft, holding in their hands the red control for the launch of flares, which the third pilot, located in the cabin, also has a flare control in his hand, and follows the sequence of wing dropping in the left and right turns, moving across the cockpit from left to right and vice versa to check for the albeit remote possibility of signs of a launch of and IR missile. Finally, almost at the runway, a steep angle of descent and a hard pull up before touchdown conclude this delicate phase of the flight.
Images and text by Federico Grattoni
Produced by Giorgio Ciarini