Italy's General Directorate for Aeronautical Armaments in late May completed a campaign of tests in the USA on a first batch of three improved General Atomics RQ-1B Predator A unmanned air vehicles. The aircraft are due to be sent in Italy in the near future, where they will join the Amendola-based 28th Group, 32nd Wing: the home of the Italian air force's UAV activities.

The improved RQ-1B features a new, increased span wing, Raytheon Multispectral Targeting System-A electro-optical/infrared payload with laser designator, new operational management software, and a Raytheon 3M avionics suite. The version should have higher safety levels to allow its use over densely populated areas - a typical planned Italian operating scenario.

One of the three aircraft to have undergone testing in the USA was a previously delivered Italian air force example that underwent extensive modification to reach the new standard. The other two were new production examples built to the enhanced configuration. Italy's three remaining operational Predator As from an initial deal for five UAVs - one of which was destroyed in a training accident in 2004 - will undergo a similar upgrade in 2010.

Italian air force Predator A
 © Italian air force

The eventual six improved RQ-1Bs will be joined early next decade by four more-capable RQ-9 Predator B/MQ-9 Reapers. The Italian parliament approved the acquisition in February 2008 and provided an initial €80 million ($111 million) in funds until 2011.

Rome last August submitted a Foreign Military Sales request to Washington for the air vehicles, plus four ground control stations and a five-year technical support package.

Source: Flight International