Andy Nativi/GENOA

The Italian armed forces are launching a series of unmanned air vehicle (UAV) procurement programmes following the extensive use of such systems during Operation Allied Force against Yugoslavia last year.

A "lesson learned" study has pushed the Italian defence ministry to accelerate its UAV acquisition plans. As a result, the Italian army has been given parliamentary approval to buy two systems - the tactical Mirach 26 and the larger Mirach 150. Both systems are built by Meteor, an Alenia business unit.

The army will receive eight of each, with the tactical system costing L84 billion ($44.1 million) and the Mirach 150 around L54 billion. Deliveries start this year and will end in 2002. The higher cost of the smaller system is thought to indicate that the army will be responsible for contributing to development costs. The Mirach 150 is a derivative of the Mirach 100 aerial target.

Although the Mirach 26 is a brigade-level asset and the larger machine is for division/corps-level operations, both types will be deployed as necessary, regardless of the force size.

Meanwhile, the Italian air force has selected the General Atomics Predator as a strategic reconnaissance and surveillance platform. It will receive six systems initially, although this could increase. As with the army's UAVs, no details have been released on the payload or sensor suites.

As the system will support all Italian armed services, the acquisition will be jointly funded. An air force unit is to be formed shortly to operate the Predator.

The air force requires the UAVs as quickly as possible - by the end of this year - and it has ruled out national development. Meteor, however, will receive offset work from General Atomics.

• The US Air Force has awarded General Atomics a $49 million contract to provide 12 more Predators, a ground station and support equipment. Deliveries are due to start in November. The USAF has ordered 72 Predators.

Source: Flight International