NATO Tiger Meet Returns To Italy After 35 Years

NATO Tiger Meet 2023
The Italian Eurofighter Typhoon in special color scheme for NTM23. (Image credit: @italianscalemodels)

Gioia del Colle Air Base will host 80 aircraft from 13 countries which will perform Large Force Employment training events from October 2 to 13.

One of the largest European exercises, the NATO Tiger Meet, is returning to Italy for its 2023 edition, which is slated to run from October 2 to 13, 2023, at Gioia del Colle Air Base. Out of 59 total editions, this is the fourth time the exercise is hosted by the Italian Air Force, with the last being NTM 1988, 35 years ago. Another edition was held in Italy in 1980 and the first one, 50 years ago, in 1973. The return also coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Italian Air Force.

The participants are already arriving at the Apulian air base, in the south of Italy, to begin familiarizing with the local airspace and procedures ahead of the start of the exercise. Around 70 fixed-wing and 10 rotary-wing aircraft from 13 nations are taking part to the exercise together with the home unit, the 36° Stormo Caccia (Fighter Wing). Other Italian Air Force units and Italian Navy assets are also involved.

With operations that will involve the airspace of Puglia, Calabria and Basilicata, the exercise will be useful to perfect the interoperability of assets in Large Force Employment (LFE) scenarios involving air defence and air interdiction missions, support to troops on the ground (Close Air Support, CAS) or search and recovery of personnel in a hostile environment (Personnel Recovery – PR).

Two Italian units are part of the NATO Tiger Association: the 21° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 9° Stormo, based at Grazzanise, which flies HH-101 Caesar and HH-212 helicopters; and the 12° Gruppo Caccia (Fighter Squadron) of the 36° Stormo, based at Gioia, which flies the Eurofighter Typhoon (F-2000 in accordance to Italy’s MOD Mission Design Series).

An HH-101A Caesar helicopter of the 21° Gruppo. (Photo: Italian Air Force)

The 12° Gruppo is a particular case in the NTA, as its emblem does not feature a tiger, but instead features the famous prancing horse of Francesco Baracca. Since 1968, the only Italian unit in the NTA was the 21° Gruppo, whose emblem features the tiger. In 2001, the squadron was disbanded and one of its subordinate units, the 351^ Squadriglia (Flight) “Tigri Bianche” (White Tigers), was reassigned to the 12° Gruppo which was therefore issued NTA Full Member status immediately. The unit has one again prepared a special colored F-2000A (MM7329) that will be unveiled during the exercise. The photo you can see at the top of this article is just a sneak preview courtesy of the designer Italian Scale Models.

Tiger Meet 2023
The special color aircraft of the 12° Gruppo that took part to last year’s Tiger Meet. (Photo: Stefano D’Urso/The Aviationist)

Here are the unit taking part to the NATO Tiger Meet 2023:

Flying Participants:

  • 31 Smd (BAF), Kleine Brogel AB, F-16A/B MLU Fighting Falcon
  • 21° Gruppo (ItAF), Grazzanise AB, HH-101 Caesar
  • 335 Mira (HAF), Araxos AB , F-16C/D Fighting Falcon
  • 230 Sqn (RAF), RAF Benson, Puma HC.2
  • Esq 301 (PoAF), BA5 Monte Real, F-16A/B MLU Fighting Falcon
  • 11F (FN), BAN Landivisiau, Rafale M
  • 814 NAS (RN), RNAS Culdrose, Merlin HM.2
  • 192 Filo (TuAF), Balikesir AB, F-16C/D Fighting Falcon
  • Staffel 11 (ChAF), Meiringen AB, F/A-18C/D Hornet
  • ECE 1/30 (FAF), BA 118 Mont-de-Marsan, Rafale B/C and Mirage 2000D
  • 211 TL (CzAF), Čáslav AB, JAS-39C/D Gripen
  • TaktLwG 51 (GAF), Schleswig AB, Tornado IDS & ECR
  • 1 AEW&C (NATO), Geilenkirchen MOB, E-3A Sentry
  • 12° Gruppo (ItAF), Gioia Del Colle AB, EF-2000 Eurofighter
  • 59/1 Sqn (HuAF), Kecskemét AB, JAS-39C/D Gripen
  • 6 ELT (PolAF), Poznań-Krzesiny AB, F-16C/D Fighting Falcon
  • TaktLwG 74 (GAF), Neuburg AB, EF-2000 Eurofighter
  • EHRA 3 (ALAT), BA Etain-Rouvres, SA-342M Gazelle and EC665 <Tigre/li>
  • Staffel (AAF), Zeltweg AB, EF-2000 Eurofighter

External Participants

  • 4F (FN), BAN Lorient, E-2C Hawkeye
  • GFD (CIVIL), Hohn AB, Learjet
  • 548 CTS (USAF), Fort Polk , No Aircraft Assigned


The Italian Eurofighter F-2000 jets ready to deploy to Araxos last year. (Photo: Stefano D’Urso/The Aviationist)

Similarly to other LFE exercises hosted recently in Italy, like Falcon Strike 2022 last year, the areas assigned to the exercise span from Apulia to the Tyrrhenian Sea, giving the participants ample space to train on all assigned tasks, including stand-off attacks and Beyond Visual Range intercepts, during the two main waves that will be launched every day. The employment of the weapons will be simulated, with no actual ordnance (both real and inert) released at any point.

The typical program of the 12 days NATO exercise, which generates no less than 800 flight sorties, starts with the arrival of the participants, briefings, familiarization flights and an opening ceremony were flags of all participating nations are raised. The exercise is also the right occasion to tighten social strengths between all participating units and, at the end of the first week, the Tiger Games, mainly a mix of fun and sports, are held.

Usually, during flying days, in the morning most participants fly local missions among each other, also called Shadow Waves, while the afternoon is reserved for the COMAOs of increasing difficulty. Composite Air Operations cover a wide spectrum of the modern air warfare, such as Defensive/Offensive Counter Air, Air Interdiction, Dynamic Targeting, TST Targeting, Suppression – Destruction of Enemy Air Defense, APCLO, APCMO.

Due to the growing helicopter force within the NTA members and their heavy use in today’s conflicts, they are integrated within the COMAO mission as Forward Air Controllers, insertion and extraction of ground forces, support of Special Ops, Combat Search And Rescue and so on. This year’s edition will see the involvement of Italian HH-101s, British Puma HC2 and Merlin HM2 and French SA-342M Gazelle helicopters.

The exchange of experiences between aircrews from different nations is not to be underestimated, with each squadron always trying to bring at least one two-seater aircraft to the Tiger Meet and trade backseat rides. These rides expose aircrews to the way things gets done by different nations, showing either different ways to perform the assigned missions among units flying the same aircraft or, if the units fly different aircraft, how to better integrate during joint missions.

Stefano D’Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he’s also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.


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