The Italian Air Force has flown its first Predator B mission over Libya as part of its contribution to NATO’s Operation Unified Protector.
The General Atomics MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) took off from 32 Wing at Amendola last Wednesday, landing 12 hours later at Foggia Air Base after flying over Libya and the Sicily Channel.
Two of the six Predator Bs destined for the Italian Air Force have become operational in the last month, Flight International reports. Another two will follow suit by the end of the year and the other two will arrive by the middle of next year.
The Predator B is larger than the A model and features a Raytheon MTS-B electro-optical/infrared sensor and General Atomics Lynx II synthetic aperture radar. The aircraft can locate and designate targets for other aircraft and provide surveillance imagery, but they will not carry weapons.
The Italian Air Force already operates MQ-1C Predator A+ aircraft and has used the type over Iraq since January 2005, and over Afghanistan since April 2007, Flight International reports. They type has accumulated more than 7000 flight hours.
The Italian Ministry of Defence announced the Predator flight over Libya on Friday and said that in the last week, the Italian Air Force had flown 34 missions in support of Unified Protector using Tornado, F-16, AMX, KC-130J and KC-767A aircraft as well as the Predator.
Italy was one of the first NATO countries to pledge military support to oust the regime of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Since operations begun, the Italian Air Force has deployed almost the complete range of operational assets at its disposal.
Tornado IDS aircraft have conducted intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions with the Reccelite pod, while from the end of April the Italian strike force has been involved in air-to-ground operations with almost the complete inventory of weapon systems.
Combat missions have been supported by the Alenia Aeronautica G.222VS signals intelligence aircraft and KC-130J and one Boeing KC-767A tankers. Two of Italy’s four KC-767As were placed into operational use in mid-May.
Since the beginning of the United-Nations mandated NATO operation on March 31, a total of 18,656 flights, including 7,079 strike sorties, have been conducted, the alliance said in a statement on Friday. Many of these missions have been flown from bases in Italy.
Italy is slowly pulling back its assets from the Libya campaign as costs mount and Gaddafi remains in power. Last month Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said he was against NATO intervention in Libya but had to go along with it.
Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa said that the cost to Italy of the Libya operation would fall from 142 million euros in the first half of the year to less than 60 million euros in the second half as part of general defence spending cuts.
He said after a cabinet meeting early last month that the aircraft carrier Garibaldi with three aircraft on board had been withdrawn, and was being replaced by land-based aircraft.