The F-104G bought by AMI were insufficient to meet NATO requirement of 18 fighters for each squadron and due to the many crashes the situation got worse year after year. Furthermore the CI (interceptor) version of the F-104G without a gun and with just 2 AIM-9B as armament was seen as insufficient to defend the nation. So the search for a new and more powerful fighter started in the mid '60s.
AMI evaluated the F-4C, the Mirage III, the F-5 and a promised more powerful version of the Starfighter with the new J79-GE-19 engine.
The Phantom was the best fighter but it was a two seater in a period when there was no Weapon System Officer in the whole Italian Air
Force, it was also very expensive so Italy chose to stay with Lockheed who offered a lot of work to the Italian industry in developing
the new variant.
The new and more powerful engine needed more air so the air intakes were redesigned, however, they were not enlarges as stated in some sources (this has been checked on real F-104s). The interior of intakes was made of steel to resist higher temperature while flying up to Mach 2.2. The trapezoidal auxiliary intakes of the F-104G were replaced by two much bigger rectangular ones that opened outward, especially during take offs on hot summers. In that configuration the Starfighther looked just like a canard.
Other external modifications were made to the cutting edge of the ventral fin and two larger fins were also added to the side of the
original one, two additional outboard pylons were also added to the wings.
The "new" F-104 was called S because it was designed to carry and fire the AIM-7E Sparrow BVR missiles.
By the way, two main versions of the F-104S were finally made: the interceptor variant (CI) and the strike variant (CB).
The CF-104S/CI had a FIAR/NASARR F15G radar capable to guide the Sparrow missiles. The missile's guidance system was quite
large and it was accommodated in the space used for the gun in the F-104G. So the CI was only armed with a maximum combination of 2 Sparrows and 4 Sidewinders. Theoretically it was a great improvement over the 2 Sidewinder of the G, by the way the need to carry
auxiliary fuel (to the inboard pylons) tanks and the impossibility to use the ventral pylons (just as it was for Italian F-104G) limited the CI maximum armament to 2 Sidewinder to the tips and 2 Sparrows to the outboard pylons. During QRA duty F-104S/CI were usually lighter and standard configuration was just 1 sidewinder and 1 Sparrow and tip tanks. F-104S/CI also had no central underbelly pylon.
The CI variant was used by:
9° Gruppo (from 1970)
10°Gruppo (from 1974)
12° Gruppo (from 1970)
21°Gruppo (from 1972),
22°Gruppo (from 1969)
23°Gruppo (from 1973)
The F-104S/CB had the FIAR/NASARR R21G-H radar and a radar altimeter for low lever strike missions, it kept the Vulcan M61A1 gun as its only air to air weapon and also had an additional internal fuel tank with a capacity of 462 litres. The F-104S/CB had a total of 9 pylons and was theoretically able to carry a wide range of external stores. By the way the tip were always used for the tanks as well the inner under wing pylons. Ventral pylons at "butter line 22" were rarely used, almost only for display purpose, so bombs went more often to outboard wing pylons and to the center-line station.
The most seen configuration for this variant was with 2 or 4 tanks and a SUU-21 bomblets dispenser to the center-line station.
This picture shows F-104S ASA 5-30 from 23°Gruppo. As you can see the aircraft has retained its original colour scheme after modification to the ASA version (photo by P. Maglio).
Turkey ordered 40 F-104S/CB and that was the only export contract for the type since the hoped for order from Taiwan never materialized.
In Italy F-104S/CB went just to 3 Squadrons:
102°Gruppo (from 1973) nuclear strike
155°Gruppo (from 1971) conventional strike
156°Gruppo (from 1970) anti shipping
Camouflage and marking of F-104S CI and CB were the same and remained the same as described for the late F-104G. Total F-104S production was for 246 aircraft (including the 40 that went to Turkey).
Though it was possible to convert a CI into a CB and vice versa, it was rarely done since it was time consuming and expensive and could only be done by the producer (Fiat and later Aeritalia).
During the '70s and '80s there was a shortage of F-104S CI and sometimes a few CB F-104 were loaned to a fighter Squadron by the
strike Squadron on the same air base in order to give fighter pilots enough hours of flight to remain combat ready.
During the crisis with Libya in the early '80s AMI found that there was no protection for the South West flank of Italy. Consequently, due
to a shortage of fighters, a pooled fleet of F-104S/CI was sent to Trapani-Birgi in Sicily for QRA duty. Each fighter Squadron had to
send 4-6 fighters for 3-4 weeks on a rotational basis. The detachment was called NODA and was intended just to fill the gap.
Later during 1984 some F-104S/CB become available since the 156°Gruppo converted to Tornados. So those airframes were sent to Trapani-Birgi were they re-formed the 18°Gruppo CBO, the only fighter Squadron in the whole AMI that used F-104S/CB in the fighter role even though they were armed with just the gun and 2 AIM-9. By the way before going to 18° Gruppo those F-104S were converted into ASA.
THE AERITALIA F-104S/ASA STARFIGHTER
During the early '80s Eurofighter EF200 was late and Italian fighters were getting old while the situation of many countries around Italy
was not that quiet. Unfortunately it was impossible to find the money to buy a new state-of-the-art fighter, so AMI ordered and Avionics and
Armament Upgrade (ASA) for his F-104S.
The upgrade was intended especially for the F-104S/CI since its F15G radar was rarely working and quite often it was replaced by ballast
during training sorties!! Initially many hopes were put on the ASA upgrade, since avionics was smaller, pilots hoped for the gun to be reinstalled on all airframes and they were also promised a refuelling probe. By the way almost nothing came to fruition. The FIAR R121G/M Setter replaced the F15G radar, new communication system and ECM system were added as well as a small chaff and flare dispenser and new RWR and IFF systems, but speaking of armament the only modifications were: the Selenia ASPIDE 1A that replaced the AIM-7F Sparrow and the AIM-9L that replaced the AIM-9B. The refuelling probe was not installed since it would have limited the speed to just Mach 1.7.
Airframes made as CB retained the gun and were redelivered to 102° and 18° Gruppi but all the others remained in the old CI configuration with a missiles-only armament. Pilots were not that happy about the ASA modifications, in that period all the other NATO nations had more advanced and powerful fighters so instead of calling the ASA Avionics and Armament Upgrade, they used to call it Another Aeronautical Shit!
While the ASA prototype was painted in a very light air superiority blue, the operational machine kept the old NATO camouflage. By the way
national roundels were painted much smaller, the large white numbers disappeared and were replaced by smaller ones in gray with a thin black fillet. Squadron emblems on the air intakes and Wing badge on the tails lost their colours and were repainted in black silhouette.
The process for low-visibility was a slow one and not all airframes received the new standard low-viz markings at the same time.
Another picture of F-104S ASA 5-30 from 23°Gruppo. Note the light grey tear-drop shaped lump aft of the roundel. This lump is unique to the F-104S ASA (photo by P. Maglio).
The last F-104S-ASA CB were retired in mid July 1993 during a ceremony at Rimini AB were the 102°Gruppo was disbanded. It would get Tornados IDS taken from the disbanded TTTE at RAF Cottesmore and would be reallocated to Brescia-Ghedi inside the 6°Wing. So from July 1993 the only F-104 still flying in Italy were interceptor ASA or TF-104G trainers. The 18°Gruppo in Trapani-Birgi was still flying with gun armed F-104S-ASA with no capability to use Sparrows or Aspide.
THE ALENIA F-104S-ASA-M
In the mid '90s there was still no hope to have the Eurofighter ready soon. AMI had to lease 24 Tornado F-3 from the RAF to restore a
minimum of credibility in its Air Defence mission but those fighters could only replaced 2 Gruppi: the 21° at Cameri-Novara and the 12° at
Gioia del Colle. All the others fighter Squadrons were still flying the Starfighter so another upgrade was ordered. This new upgrade was
very limited and was intended primarily to keep some F-104 in flight, the best 64 airframes were chosen for the M (Modified) project: they
were 49 F-104S-ASA /CI and 15 TF-104G.
All relevant modifications were internal: radios were replaced, a new TACAN and a GPS were installed while the old and almost useless
AN/ALQ-70 self defence system was removed.
All airframes were repainted in the new standard gray colour that was used from the early 90s to the whole AMI fleet.
The first ASA-M was delivered around the end of 1997 to the 23°Gruppo of the 5°Wing that recently was moved from Rimini AB to Cervia AB, still on the Adriatic coast. Others Squadron that flew with the ASA-M were:
9°Gruippo at Grosseto AB
10°Gruppo at Grazzanise AB and
18°Gruppo at Trapani Birgi AB that finally got some Aspide capable Starfighter and lost all its Vulcan armed F-104S-ASA/CB.
All the TF-104G/M remained within the 20°Gruppo in Grosseto.
F-104S ASA-M 5-31, also from 23°Gruppo. The aircraft has been repainted in the overall light grey colour scheme after the update to ASA-M standard (photo by P. Maglio).
Even the ASA-M project was unable to make the Starfighter soldier on until the arrival of the Eurofighter. During the war in the ex-Yugoslavia the ASA-M showed all its age and was unable to fly along others NATO fighters, It was relegated to air base protection and
deemed unsuitable even for that mission. A solution for the retirement of all Italian Starfighter was finally sought in 2004 when 34 old, third-hand F-16A/B ADF were leased from Lockheed Martin to replace F-104 within 3 Squadrons.
A sad note was that many of those airframes were as old as the Starfighters they were going to replace since those F-16s were build
more or less at the same time when in Italy the ASAM were reworked!