May 30, 2012
Credit: Credit: U.S. Air Force photo
President Barack Obama’s administration appears set to notify the U.S. Congress of plans to arm a fleet of Italian MQ-9 Reaper UAVs, a step that may spur a wider spread of remotely piloted hunter-killer aircraft.
The administration could move ahead within two weeks on the proposal to let Italy join Britain in deploying U.S. UAVs with weapons such as laser-guided bombs and Hellfire missiles, U.S. officials said.
Italy has a fleet of six Reapers. The sale of the technology to arm them, including bomb racks and “weaponization” kits costing up to $17 million, would help the United States redistribute the burden of its global military operations as the Pentagon’s budget is being squeezed by deficit-reduction requirements.
Aides to Obama have been informally consulting the House of Representatives and Senate’s respective foreign affairs committees about the proposed sale to Italy since last year, congressional staff said.
The latest such period of “pre-consultations” ended May 27 without a move to block the sale, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the coming formal notification to lawmakers.
A transfer to Italy would make it harder for the United States to deny armed-UAV technology if asked for it by other members of the 28-country NATO alliance or by close U.S. partners such as South Korea, Japan and Australia, arms-sale analysts said.
“I think that if you sell armed drones to Italy, you will very likely make a decision that any member of NATO that wants them can also get them,” said a former congressional staff member who followed the issue.
Some lawmakers fear that a decision to arm Italian UAVs may spur overseas sales of related technology by Israel, Russia and China.
The United States has used its MQ-9s to hunt and kill members of al Qaeda and its allies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistani tribal areas.