Photo: Flickr/AN HONORABLE GERMAN
The U.S. plans to arm Italy’s fleet of drones and U.S. officials say that Italy intends to initially deploy them in Afghanistan, reports Adam Entous of the Wall Street Journal.The $17 million upgrade would enable Italy’s six MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to carry and fire Hellfire missiles, laser-guided bombs and larger munitions used to take out deeply buried targets.
U.S. corporations are currently selling drones to undisclosed foreign governments, but Italy would become the first foreign country besides Britain to fly U.S. drones armed with missiles and laser-guided bombs.
U.S. officials indicated that Italy would initially deploy the armed drones to “protect” its 3,800 troops in Afghanistan — Italy has lost about 50 troops in Afghanistan since 2003 — but critics point out that it would take at least a year to upgrade Italy’s Reapers and train Italian pilots to use the sophisticated weapons and targeting systems while Italy plans to withdraw all of its troops by the end of 2014.
Entous notes that supporters of the deal say “such sales would enable trusted allies to conduct military missions on their own as well as help open markets for U.S. drone manufacturers.”
Worldwide UAV spending will almost double over the next decade and total more than $89 billion in the next 10 years, according to TEAL group.
Officials note that the sale will open the door for other NATO countries to buy armed-drone technology.
For example Turkey has expressed interest in buying Reapers to use again Kurdish separatist fighters, and Reuters reports that Turkish President Abdullah Gul said that he has received President Obama’s support.
A formal notification of the sale by Congress is expected as soon as this week.
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