Written by  Gregory Alegi
Ferrara keeps watch over Italy.
The aerial defence for Pope John Paul's funeral and for Hungary are both provided from Poggio Renatico. For some years now, the lines of command of the forces ensuring the safety of our national and NATO skies have met and crossed at the Ferrara base.

For Italy, Poggio Renatico is the home of the Operational Air Force Command (COFA), while for the North Atlantic Alliance it provides a base for Combined Air Operation Center 5 (CAOC-5). Vast telecommunications and computing facilities at the Poggio Renati operational centre ensure the capacity to control air operations both for normal training and for actual operations.

Today, the COFA is one of the most advanced military organisations in Italy. The installation of the new NATO Air Combat and Control System (ACCS) will increase its importance.

The history of Poggio Renatico goes back to the First World War, when the Navy's Caproni bombers operated from the base. When the air force became a fully-fledged third armed service, the airfield became the home of the 8th Night Bombing Wing and was named after Giuseppe Veronesi, a lieutenant from Bologna serving in the reconnaissance force.

The importance of Poggio Renatico diminished during WWII, but after the war it became the base for the 11th Radar Group. Ferrara thus became a link in the NATO radar chain extending from Norway to Turkey.

It was NATO that financed the expansion of the base in the early 1990s, with the construction of a protected headquarters with three underground levels and an operations room designed to take over the role of the regional operations centre at Monte Venda, near Padua. The COFA grew up around this nucleus.

When it was founded on 1 January 1998, the COFA was based in Vicenza, for thirty years the home of the Headquarters of the 5th ATAF (Allied Tactical Air Force), the direct predecessor of the CAOC-5. This was the headquarters in name but little more, because its operational centre was already at Poggio Renatico.

In the course of a few months the armed forces abandoned forever the territorially-based organisation which it had had since its inception. On 1 March 1999 the system of air regions gave way to three commands covering logistics, training and the operational force. This last is responsible for the training and efficiency of the units that are actually deployed by the COFA.

From 24 March 1999, the newly formed COFA has taken part in Allied Force operations with the day-to-day management of 400 aircraft from a dozen different air forces, gradually rising to almost 900.

The transfer of functions from Vicenza to Ferrara continued steadily until 1 September 2003, when it was officially complete. In September 2004, CAOC-5 assumed responsibility for the air defence of Slovenia.

Under normal circumstances COFA and CAOC organise the participation of Allied and Italian units in national or NATO exercises. Ferrara's influence thus extends well beyond Italian borders. Air force units working 'out of area' are also controlled by COFA.

Two other important tasks are dependent on COFA; the Operations Centre is responsible for coordinating air searches and rescue operations in Italy.

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