UAS & Robotics

U.S. approves Italy's request to weaponize Reapers

MQ-9 Reaper UAS

The potential sale would allow Italy to outfit Reapers with Hellfire missiles and other munitions.

The State Department this week approved a possible sale to Italy that would enable the weaponization of U.S.-made MQ-9 Reapers used by the country’s military, according to a release from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. 

The potential sale, which DCSA notified Congress of Nov. 3, would make Italy the second U.S. NATO partner, along with the U.K., to use weaponized Reapers. Among other countries, only Israel and Pakistan have used armed drones, although other countries, including China, Russia, France, South Africa, Iran and Nigeria, are believed to have the capability.

Italy asked for the weaponized unmanned systems for three reasons, DSCA said: to support NATO and coalition operations, to increase its operational flexibility and to better protect Italian forces.

The total cost of the sale is estimated at $129.6 million and would include $18 million worth of munitions, including:

  • 156 AGM-114R2 Hellfire II Missiles;
  • eight Hellfire II, M36-E8 Captive Air Training Missiles (CATMs);
  • 30 GBU-12 Laser Guided Bombs..
  • 30 GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs);
  • five Hellfire M34 Dummy Missiles;
  • 30 GBU-49 Enhanced Laser Guided Bombs;
  • 30 GBU-54 Laser JDAMs; twenty-six (26) Bomb Racks;
  • six MQ-9 weaponization kits and installation;
  • 13 M-299 launchers;
  • two AN/AWM-103 test suites;
  • personnel weapons training/equipment; spare parts;
  • support equipment;
  • publications and technical data;
  • U.S. government and contractor technical assistance, and other related elements of program and logistics support.

The State Department in February released a fact sheet concerning a new export policy for military unmanned systems. “The new export policy is part of a broader United States UAS policy review which includes plans to work with other countries to shape international standards for the sale, transfer, and subsequent use of military UAS,” the fact sheet said.

The policy requires that sales be made through the government-to-government Foreign Military Sales program and be reviewed through the Defense Department’s Technology Security and Foreign Disclosure processes. Any country receiving the weapons also must agree to end-use assurances, end-use monitoring and potential additional security conditions.

The United States also requires the recipients:

  • Use the systems in accordance with international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law;
  • Engage them in use of force only when there is a lawful basis under international law, such as national self-defense;
  • Not use military UAS to conduct unlawful surveillance or use unlawful force against their domestic populations;
  • Provide UAS operators technical and doctrinal training on the use of the systems to reduce the risk of unintended injury or damage.

Italy already operates U.S.-made Reaper drones for surveillance and “will have no difficulty incorporating this added [weaponized] capability into its Air Force,” DCSA said, while contending that the sale would improve U.S. national security by strengthening a key NATO ally.

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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