Italy is evaluating the Piaggio Aero P1HH Hammerhead unmanned air vehicle (UAV) as a likely replacement for its air force's fleet of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Predator As from later this decade.
The medium-altitude, long-endurance type is being developed by Piaggio as an unmanned variant of its twin-pusher P180 Avanti II business aircraft, but is yet to attract a launch customer.
However, Gen Gianni Candotti, head of air and space planning at the Italian air force, says the service is keeping a close eye on the Hammerhead's development.
Speaking at a Rome conference last week, Candotti said the UAV requirement covers a number of missions including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), electronic warfare and air-to-ground operations.
He says: "Among the foreseen candidates, the Hammerhead should lead – if it will satisfy the requirements set for its development, demonstration and certification process."
Italy's Armaero procurement body is monitoring the progress of the Hammerhead, and will be the military certification body for the type.
Rome was the first European operator of the A-model Predator, and has subsequently upgraded its fleet to the enhanced A+ standard.
However, with in-service support from the manufacturer likely to end later this decade, Candotti says, the air force is now evaluating possible replacements.
In addition, the service is planning an enhancement programme for its Predator Bs – a number of which are deployed in Afghanistan in support of the NATO-led mission there.
Improvements are likely to include the integration of the Selex ES Seaspray maritime radar alongside an unidentified Israeli-made ISR pod, Candotti adds.
Additionally, Italy is evaluating the replacement of its E3R Strix-C 8kg (18lb)-class mini-UAVs, either with an updated version or an entirely new platform.
The nation is also changing the training provided to UAV operators. Previously personnel have been deployed to the USA for instruction, but in future this will be conducted in Italy.