US planning to arm Italy’s Reaper fleet

US planning to arm Italy’s Reaper fleet

US planning to arm Italy’s Reaper fleet

Airmen prepare to load an AGM-114 Hellfire II air-to-ground missile onto a MQ-9 Reaper in an airbase in Nevada in this photo taken from US Air Force Website.

The Obama administration plans to arm Italy’s fleet of Reaper drone aircraft, a move that could open the door for sales of advanced drone technology to other allies, according to lawmakers, the Wall Street Journal reported May 29.

The sale would make Italy the first foreign country, aside from Britain, to fly U.S. drones armed with missiles and laser-guided bombs. U.S. officials said Italy intends to initially deploy the armed drones in Afghanistan.

Lawmakers who question the planned deal say the decision to “weaponize” Italy’s unarmed surveillance drones could make it harder for the U.S. to deny similar capabilities to other NATO allies, and set back efforts to urge sales limitations on other nations that make sophisticated drones such as Israel, according to the article. Last week Turkish President Abdullah Gül said the Obama administration was trying to convince the U.S. Congress to approve the sale of drones to Turkey for its campaign against militants. “Actually the administration has a positive stance (over the sale),” Gül was quoted by Anatolia news agency in Chicago where he was attending a NATO summit. “[The Obama administration] are trying to convince congress,” he said.

‘No blocking’

Advocates say such sales would enable allies to conduct military missions on their own, as well as help open markets for U.S. drone manufacturers. The administration sent a confidential “pre-notification” to congressional panels in April detailing its plan to sell kits to Italy to arm up to six Reaper drones, which are larger, more-powerful versions of the Predator.

Obama’s administration gave congress a longer-than-usual 40 days to review the proposed sale. The period ended May 27 without a move being made to block the sale, according to congressional officials, clearing the way for the deal to move forward and for a formal notification of congress as soon as this week. Congress still could block the sale if it passes a joint resolution of disapproval in both the House and the Senate within 15 calendar days.

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