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A front view of an

AW-109N low over the


Tyrrhenian Sea. This
view clearly shows
the sensors that can
be used in the fight
against illegal activity
WITH ALMOST 1900
KILOMETRES OF LAND
BORDERS AND AROUND 7600
KILOMETRES OF COASTLINE,
ITALY HAS A LOT OF BORDERS
TO KEEP TRACK OF AND
DEFEND AGAINST ILLEGAL
ACTIVITIES. ERIK BRUIJNS
EXAMINES THE GUARDIA
DI FINANZA, THE ITALIAN
BORDER DEFENDERS.

PHOTOS BY
ERIK BRUIJNS & MARK DE GREEUW

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The Guardia di Finanza was established
5 October 1774 as a Light Troops Legion
to protect Italy against financial crime
and smuggling. During the centuries that
followed the group expanded their tasks.

N
ext to this enormous task, the first step to their current way of
the Italian government working. Concentrating increasingly on
is also heavily involved smuggling and violations of financial
in different cooperative law, the Corps was also tasked with the
efforts set up to protect the European cooperating in enforcing law and order
borders. Tasked with this challenge and public safety.
is the Guardia di Finanza, one of the During the early years of the
many Italian agencies that protect the twentieth century the Corps received its
country’s citizens. Due to the size of the military status and therefore was also
tasks and missions of the agency, it is involved in both World Wars, during
has become the third largest force in which they earned 18 awards to its War
Italy when it comes to hardware such Flag. During a complete reorganization
cars, boats, helicopters and airplanes. of the police forces in Italy in 1919,
the Corps received its current name
as Royal Guardia di Finanza. Post-war
INTRODUCTION reconstruction, economic development,
The Guardia di Finanza was international trade liberalization and
established 5 October 1774 as a Light the first signs of a process of European
Troops Legion to protect Italy against integration lead to a new Italian tax
financial crime and smuggling. During structure. The reforms of direct taxation
the centuries that followed the group lead to a profound change in the system
expanded their tasks. In 1862, they of prosecution of tax evasion.
changed into the Customs Guard Due to the area of operation in the
Corps and were named Corpo delle north of Italy, close to the Swiss and
Guardie Dogonali. Their main task was Austrian borders high up in the Alps
to concentrate on customs surveillance and Dolomites, the Guardia di Finanza
and several years later in 1881 they has also historically been involved in
changed into the Corpo della Regia rescue operations. Patrolling tracks
Guardia di Finanza, which resulted in and borders day and night in this

20 HELIOPS FRONTLINE
The new AW-139 provides
a wide range of new
technology. The operator in
the back can use different
types of cameras to track
and trace boats at sea or
vehicles on land

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AW-109N GF318 in its natural
environment. Low over the sea
scanning for illegal activity
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AW-139 GF402 mountainous environment gave the
cruises along the
STRUCTURE
agency an additional task which they
coastline south of The Guard is an Italian law
turned into a specialty. With the decline enforcement agency under the
Pratica di Mare
in illegal activities in this area, they authorization of the Minister of
focused more on mountain rescue Economy and Finance. There are
operations and with the experience around 58,000 policemen and women
gathered during these years an alpine working within the Guardia di Finanza
rescue unit (Soccorso Alpino della of which around 10% is linked to the air
Guardia di Finanza) was established. To component. Within the air component
be able to fulfil this specialized task it there are two different types of units,
was inevitable that they would purchase “Sezioni Aeree” and “Sezioni Aeree
helicopters. In February 1954 the di Manovra”. Both types of units are
Servizio Aereo of the Guardia di Finanza divided over fifteen bases in Italy
was established and in 1955 two Agusta (including Sardinia and Sicily) and are
Bell AB-47G helicopters entered service. equipped with helicopters. Every unit
These first two were soon followed by uses one or two different types, each
six additional helicopters. This also gave performing their own tasks. Out of the
a boost to keep up with the increased fifteen bases, just two, one in Venegone
smuggling activities at sea during that and one in Bolzano, are specialized in
time. This initial batch of helicopters the mountain rescue operations.
was delivered painted blue. The Guardia Based at Pratica di Mare, 20
di Finanza was looking for their own kilometres south of Rome, is the Centro
identity during the years that followed di Aviazione, consisting of 1° Gruppo
and eventually changed the colour Aereo and 2° Gruppo Aereo. 1° Gruppo
scheme into yellow. is tasked with the maintenance and

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The sensors and cameras in the
AW-109N are extramely useful in the
urban environment. This enables the
Guardia di Finanza to work day and
night, fighting illegal activities

HELIOPS FRONTLINE 27
overhaul of the helicopters. All second services for sea traffic surveillance,
level maintenance is performed at countering of counterfeiting and
Pratica di Mare and sometimes also part importation of illegal goods;
of the third level maintenance, which • undue use of energy products
normally is done by the manufacturer. for which customs facilitation are
Magg. pil. Piccolo explains, “2° Gruppo granted;
is tasked with the logistics and training • use of undeclared personnel onboard
of new units. If for instance a new type vessels;
is introduced to replace an older type • undue collection of contributions
at a specific base, then it will be 2° provided by the national or European
Gruppo that takes care of all training budget for sea and fishery workers,
and ensures that the transition will go mainly for restructuring the vessel,
smooth. For this reason, you will find aquaculture plants, the professional
every type of helicopter in service reconversion of the crews and
with this unit.” To be able to fulfil the demolition of fishing boats;
operational tasks with the helicopters, • contribution in activities for
there is also a normal Sezioni Aeree prevention and repression of unlawful
stationed at Pratica di Mare. deeds related to the environment
and state property, thanks to the
technologic devices onboard aircrafts
OPERATIONS and specific initiatives of cooperation
The main tasks of the air component are; with research agencies;
• economic control of the coast, the • contribution to the maritime
sea and internal waters, together with police in identifying administrative
monitoring of the airspace above; and criminal breaches as per the
• contribution to customs police Navigation Code.

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Three types of helicopters
are being prepared for
The Guard has gained an enormous area around the base, linking each
an early morning mission
amount of experience due to their unit to an area so that together they at the main 2 Gruppo
long history in fighting illegal activities will cover the whole of Italy. Piccolo flightline
within and around the Italian borders. continues; “Depending on the position
Especially when it comes to the air of the base, our units can be extremely
component there are a lot more busy. Especially our Southern bases
activities involved then just flying have seen an increase in activities over
the helicopters and aircraft. A lot the past years”.
of preparation is needed for each In this area, they are engaged
mission and after each mission, in the international air and sea
additional investigation is done. The air operations “Indalo” in Spain for the
component units, together with the sea patrolling of the Western Mediterranean
and ground units, go deeper into the Sea and “Poseidon” in Greece for the
mission details to try not only to catch monitoring of the Aegean Sea facing
the offenders that performed the illegal the Turkish coasts. Since 01 November,
activities but also the networks behind 2014, it has also been an active player
these offenders. “In essence, our pilots in the joint operation “Triton”,
and operators are performing police aimed at patrolling the central
activities, similar to the men Mediterranean basin to counter illegal
and women on the street”, Magg. pil. migration from North Africa. Besides
Piccolo explains. employing numerous vessels and
The Guardia di Finanza has air aircraft, it coordinates the operation
assets available 24 hours a day, 7 days through the International Coordination
a week, all year. For each Sezione Centre, established in the Air and
Aeree or Sezione Aeree di Manovra the Maritime Operations Command at
operational area is linked to a specific Pratica di Mare.

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AW-139 GF402 cruises along the
coastline south of Pratica di Mare

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AB-412 GF201 seen
in the maintenance
hangar of 1 Gruppo.
HELICOPTERS factory that supplies us with the parts
The maintenance unit
By far the helicopter with the most that we need”, Piccolo explained.
will perform heavy
maintenance on all numbers in service with the Guardia The first major leap forward for
helicopters di Finanza is the Hughes H-500. An the Guardia di Finanza came with the
initial batch of ten M models entered introduction of the Agusta A-109A-
service in 1973. The helicopters II. This fully Italian-developed and
represented a good step towards -manufactured helicopter was the first
countering the smuggling and illegal Agusta designed and built helicopter
activities that was a huge problem in which supported a retractable landing
the Mediterranean area in the ‘70s. A gear and a large passenger cabin.
more powerful version of the Hughes The advantages came in the form
500 was designed and fitted with the of night flying, instrumental flying
400 Horse-powered Allison 250 C20 and long-range missions at sea. The
turbine engine. This resulted in the MC introduction of the A-109 also improved
version. Additional improvements were co-operation between air and sea
pontoons and an auxiliary fuel tank, units. A special customized version
which almost doubled the range of was developed being equipped with
these helicopters. A total of 46 MC and four-channel autopilot, 360° search
17 MD models followed between 1977 and weather radar, ILS plus a dozen
and 1986. In the last couple of years, the more systems to perform stabilized
M model has been retired from service, and IFR flying. The AW-109N (Nexus)
but the NH-500 is still going strong is an improved multi-role version of
after 40 years. “Due to the age of the the A-109 and entered service in 2009.
helicopters, we had to come up with a Next to improved engines, compared
solution to get spare parts. Since three to the older model, the Nexus also
years we have a deal with a civilian brought a range of new technology.

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A close up of the screen the back seat
operator is using to track and trace
boats at sea or vehicles on land

The screens in the back can easily


be used by the pilots as well. This
gives the pilots the ability to see
what is happening at all times
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The nimble NH-500 is still
going strong after many
years of service with the
Guardia di Finanza
HELIOPS FRONTLINE 35
NH500 GF109 is still
going strong after many
years in service with the
Several of these new systems include and Bolzano for mountain operations.
Guardia di Finanza FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) for The differences between the normal
the detection and tracking of targets, version and the alpino version are: the
FCS (Flight Control System or Auto height of the skids, the clear plexiglas
Pilot) in support of approaching boats, on top, no internal fuselage tank and
FMS (flight Management System) that different avionics. The AB-412 also had
supports the pilots in navigating and in some asbestos related issues. Piccolo
managing the aircraft. It introduced an says, “We identified the problem
NVG (Night Vision Goggles) compatible during maintenance work on the rotor
cockpit. This makes the Nexus a state head. Together with the manufacturer
of the art helicopter enabling the Guard we assessed the problem and found
to further expand its’ operations. The a solution”. This caused the AB-412
A-109A-II has now been retired from fleet of the Guardia di Finanza to be
service. Due to an issue with asbestos grounded for a small period in 2016.
in some of the parts, it is not possible The newest addition to the Guardia
to sell these helicopters and a solution di Finanza’s helicopter inventory is the
is pending to deal with this. Agusta Westland AW-139. Delivered
Another Bell helicopter that has in mid-2009, this medium lift Search
been license built is the Agusta Bell and Rescue / utility helicopter is still in
AB-412HP. This high performance four the work-up phase and therefore not
bladed version was the successor of yet fully operational. An initial batch of
the older two bladed Bell 212. With a two helicopters, of which only one in
service ceiling of up to 6000 meters full mission configuration, have been
this helicopter is more than suitable for delivered and both are stationed at
operations in the Alps and Dolomites. Pratica di Mare. “So far, 24 pilots have
Out of the 22 that entered service been trained and are qualified to fly the
from early 1994, four were delivered AW-139”, Piccolo said. “In October, one
in so called “alpino” configuration and AW-139 will be stationed in Catania, Sicily
are used by the units in Venegone and will become the first operational

36 HELIOPS FRONTLINE
AB-412 GF208
operates in the urban
example. This will give the unit a huge overloaded with immigrants. At times environment south of
boost in capabilities”. A contract for a the number of immigrants exceeded Pratica di Mare
further six examples will see deliveries the number of residents of this small
starting in October of 2017. Italian island by several thousands. The
A complete overview of the number involvement of the Guardia di Finanza
of helicopters in service with the Guardia was inevitable and many operations of
di Finanza as of April 2017 is as follows; both helicopters and fixed wing aircraft
in that region were flown. Add the
Type In service problems in Syria from the past years
NH-500MC/MD 25 to this and it becomes clear that the
AW-109N 17 involvement of the Guardia di Finanza
AB-412HP 17 to protect the Southern borders of
AW-139 2 Europe is a high priority.
The geographical location of Italy
in the middle of the Mediterranean
FUTURE makes the country highly accessible
The Guardia di Finanza’s involvement for both immigrants and other illegal
in the protection of the Italian borders trafficking. The involvement of the
has been expanded over the years Guard will therefore only increase in the
to well outside their original area of coming years. With the introduction of
operation. Tracking illegal activities new platforms and new equipment the
and being involved in preventing illegal Guardia di Finanza will remain a valuable
immigration has been the highest force to counteract the illegal activities
priority. The recent turmoil in the both nationally and internationally.
North African countries and more The authors would like to thank
specific in Libya in 2011 created a mass the men and women of the Guardia di
exodus of people towards the Italian Finanza for their time and hospitality.
coast. Lampedusa, which is just 130 A special thank you goes to Magg. pil.
kilometres off the coast of Tunisia, was Giuseppe Piccolo. v

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