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Italian Predators deploy to Iraq

UAV will be used for monitoring in run-up to elections

Italy's defence ministry has deployed its newly operational General Atomics RQ-1 Predator tactical unmanned air vehicle to Iraq to enhance surveillance in the Italian military-controlled south province of Dhi Qar ahead of national elections on 30 January. Declared operational late last month, Italy's new UAV system was deployed to Tallil air base near An Nasiriyah in mid-January using leased Antonov transport aircraft.

The Italian defence general staff placed a $54 million contract with General Atomics in July 2002 to acquire one Predator system including five air vehicles and three L-3 Wescam Skyball electro-optic/infrared payloads. Local company Galileo Avionica assembled the air vehicles and customised the ground control station under the deal and is also providing training and initial logistics support.

The joint service Predator programme is managed by the air force, with personnel also provided by the navy. The air force in March 2002 established the 28th Remotely Piloted Aircraft Squadron at Amendola air base near Foggia in south-eastern Italy, where the unit has access to over-sea training areas and can monitor the Balkans region. The unit's personnel completed training with General Atomics in the USA last year, where one air vehicle was lost in a January 2004 accident.

Italy's Predator contract includes options to acquire a sixth air vehicle and procure two synthetic aperture radar payloads.

LUCA PERUZZI / GENOA

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