The Italian air force has overcome budgetary and bureaucratic issues and is moving ahead with the acquisition of General Atomics RQ-1A Predator unmanned air vehicles (UAVs).

Italy developed an urgent requirement for a squadron of "near strategic" UAVs following last year's Operation Allied Force against Yugoslavia.

Despite the requirement being flagged as urgent, the programme became bogged down in budgetary and bureaucratic wrangling in Rome.

The number of systems to be acquired has, however, been cut from 10-12 to a maximum of six.

The programme is now considered a "joint" asset and funding, as well as exploitation of the intelligence data it gathers, will be shared between the services.

But management of the capability will rest with the air force, which will establish a squadron at Amendola, close to the Adriatic and the troubled Balkans.

Initially, Italy planned to run a traditional procurement competition by issuing a request for proposals, followed by a lengthy selection process.

The urgency of the requirement and pressure from the armed forces, particularly the navy, led to a change of plan and the acquisition of a proven system.

Predator has been used extensively by the USA over Yugoslavia.

General Atomics has signed an agreement with Alenia's Meteor subsidiary.Meteor has also won orders for its Mirach 26 and Mirach 150 UAVs following the Kosovo campaign.

The Italian company will act as payload systems integrator and will provide training and maintenance support. Meteor will also build a control station.

Italy has yet to select a synthetic aperture radar for the Predator. General Atomics has prepared its own system, while Northrop Grumman has submitted a competing proposal.

Source: Flight International