ROME — As it expands its fleet of sensor-loaded Gulfstream jets, the Italian Air Force has set its sights on acquiring the Compass Call electronic-attack variant now being test-flown for the United States, the service’s chief has said.
Italy already operates two Gulfstream G550 business jets converted for early warning missions (CAEW) and has ordered two more with signals-intelligence capabilities, as well as six other unconverted G550s which are yet to be officially given a role.
Air Force chief Gen. Luca Goretti told Defense News that those six aircraft would become “a mix of CAEW and Compass Call” aircraft, meaning Italy will have a ten-strong G550 fleet divided into three different variants.
Test flights are now being undertaken in the United States of a G550 converted into an EC-37B Compass Call electronic-attack jet, following a U.S. Air Force contract handed to L3Harris Technologies in 2017, with ten jets to be initially acquired.
The deal involves transferring electronic-attack systems into G550s from aging EC-130H aircraft which have been in service for decades with the U.S. Air Force and cannot manage the speed and altitude of the more modern Gulfstream.
The systems on Compass Call aircraft are designed to disrupt enemy command and control communications, radars and navigation systems.
Adapting the G550 involves modifying the aircraft’s exterior and installing radomes and antennas.
Italy would need U.S. approval before obtaining Compass Call G550s.
The two Gulfstream G550′s Italy flies now in Conformal Airborne Early Warning, or CAEW, format were purchased from Israel’s IAI in 2012 as part of a swap deal under which Israel purchased 30 M-346 trainers from Italian firm Leonardo.
Thanks to a 2020 Foreign Military Sales deal with the U.S. worth $500 million Italy is now set to receive two more G550s in a type of signals-intelligence (SIGINT) format dubbed Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Electronic Warfare (AISREW).
With L3Harris as prime contractor, the United States listed likely on-board kit for the AISREW aircraft including the L3Harris Rio communications intelligence system (COMINT), the MX-20HD electro-optical turret from the same firm and the Osprey 50 radar by Italy’s Leonardo, which offers synthetic aperture radar and ground moving target indicator functions.
Italian officials have said the electro-optical and radar capability make the Italian aircraft more than SIGINT jets.
That leaves the six unconverted G550s Italy has also purchased, which Goretti said he aims to be converted to both Compass Call and CAEW format.
“The two CAEWs operated by Italy have proved really useful and efficient during the Ukraine conflict because they can loiter, and they can avoid the need to use larger assets like the NATO AWACS aircraft, which means a saving,” he said.
“We will buy more to cover multiple theaters, from missions undertaken with our allies to our national interests in the south to Kuwait,” he added.
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.