“Shot Down’ By Korean FA-50 Aircraft For Philippines Deal, Italian Air Force Bids Adieu To AMX Attack Jets

The Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militaire Italiana or AMI) has recently bid adieu to its Aeritalia Macchi eXperimental (AMX) light attack aircraft after 35 years of dedicated service. 

The AMX, originally developed in collaboration with Brazil during the 1980s and 1990s, was designated A-11B Ghibli by the AMI and had been an integral part of the Italian Air Force’s fleet. 

The ceremony took place at Istrana Air Base, situated 30 kilometers (20 miles) northwest of Venice, home to the 132nd mixed Squadron, which was the last Italian squadron to operate the AMX.

During the ceremony, a formation flight comprising five AMX jets alongside several other aircraft, including one F-35 and two Eurofighter Typhoon fighters, was displayed. Additionally, the Frecce Tricolori aerobatic team took part in the event.

The AMX holds a prestigious record within the AMI as the most utilized tactical combat aircraft in out-of-area missions. Its versatility and reliability have made it a key asset in various operational theaters over the years. 

The decision to retire the aging AMX fleet was taken as part of a broad modernization effort within the Italian Air Force. The AMX’s retirement is part of a larger recapitalization initiative within the AMI. 

This initiative includes the phasing out of the Panavia Tornado aircraft in favor of more advanced platforms such as the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Lockheed Martin F-35A/B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. 

The move reflects Italy’s commitment to maintain a modern and capable air force equipped with state-of-the-art technology to meet evolving threats and operational requirements.

The AMX light attack aircraft will be remembered for its dependable and extensively utilized service, particularly in successive combat missions across the Balkans, Afghanistan, Libya, and Iraq. 

In 1989, the Italian Air Force procured 110 units of the AMX and 26 two-seater trainer versions known as AMX-T. Over its 35 years of service with the Italian Air Force, the AMX accumulated an impressive tally, logging over 240,000 flight hours. 

Among these, approximately 18,500 hours were dedicated to operational missions, demonstrating its reliability and effectiveness in various environments.

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is slated to take over the AMX’s role within the Aeronautica Militare fleet. Meanwhile, the Brazilian Air Force continues to operate 42 AMX and 8 AMX-T aircraft, but there are plans to gradually replace them with Saab Gripen E fighters. 

The Philippines Once Wanted To Procure Used AMX Light Attack Aircraft

The Philippines once considered acquiring used AMX attack jets from the Italian Air Force. The idea emerged in 2012 when the Philippines and Italy entered into an agreement to streamline the procurement of military equipment from Italian suppliers.

While the signing of this agreement did not solidify the Philippines’ commitment to purchasing defense equipment from Italian firms, local media reported about the potential acquisition of used AMX ground attack aircraft from Italy.

Just two years later, on March 28, 2014, the Philippines’ Department of National Defense took a different route. Instead of pursuing the AMX jets, they chose to procure 12 FA-50 light attack aircraft valued at P18.9 billion (US$421.12 million) from South Korea. 

The choice could be regarded as prudent. The South Korean FA-50 light attack aircraft is significantly more advanced than the Italian-made Cold War-era combat jet. In 2017, the Philippines utilized its Korean-made jets in combat for the first time. 

Presently, South Korea has been pitching to the Philippine Air Force (PAF) to explore the potential of procuring more advanced versions of its current Mach 1.5-capable light jet fighters, the FA-50PH, to further bolster its defensive capabilities.

File image: AMX. Credits: Aeronautica Militare

Seoul is also suggesting retrofitting or upgrading the existing fleet of 12 FA-50PH aircraft to equip them for conducting a variety of mission objectives, including air-to-ground, air-to-sea, and air-to-air operations.

In addition to the Philippines, Venezuela was also interested in acquiring this combat aircraft. In December 2002, the Venezuelan Air Force opted to acquire 12 AMX-T aircraft from the Brazilian aerospace corporation Embraer for advanced trainer and attack roles.

However, the sale was vetoed by the US Congress. As a result, the transfer of US-built components was blocked, ultimately leading to the cancellation of the order.