Procurement: Italy Dares, Germany Doesn't

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August 6, 2008: Italy is buying four U.S. MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. The Reaper was designed as a combat aircraft that also does reconnaissance. The Reaper can carry over half a ton of GPS or laser guided bombs, as well as the 250 pound SDB (small diameter bomb), or Hellfire missiles. The earlier Predators cost about $4.5 million each (with sensors, about half as much without), while the Reaper goes for about $9 million (with sensors). The Italians will be paying $330 million for the four UAVs, three ground stations, five years of technical and maintenance support, spare parts, and training. Italy already operates six MQ-1 Predators, and has used them in Iraq.

At the same time, the German military sought to buy five MQ-9s, but with a smaller support package, one that will cost $205 million. Several other factions in the government publically opposed this sale, considering the purchase of armed UAVs as too aggressive.

The Reaper can only stay in the air for up to 24 hours, versus 40 hours for the Predator. But experience has shown that few missions require even 24 hours endurance. For that reason, it was decided not to give the Reaper an inflight refueling capability. The Reaper also carries sensors equal to those found in targeting pods like the Sniper XL or Litening, and flies at the same 20,000 foot altitude of most fighters using those pods. This makes the Reaper immune to most ground fire, and capable of seeing, and attacking, anything down there. All at one tenth of the price of a manned fighter aircraft. 

The Predator and Reaper are getting a lot of foreign sales simply because the Predator has more combat experience than any other large UAV. Israeli UAVs get nearly as much combat experience, but much less media coverage, and are not used in as intense a combat environment as the Predator. That sort of experience makes a system "combat proven," and a lot easier to sell.

 


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