General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) has been contracted by the Italian Air Force’s (Aeronautica Militare) MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) fleet mid-life update.

The MQ-9 update is part of the Italian Air Force’s Mid-Life Modernisation (MLM) programme. It also includes the upgrade of ground control stations (GCS).

These updates will improve the configuration of MQ-9s from Block 1 to Block 5.

It will be delivered under the foreign military sales (FMS) programme route with the US Government.

The MQ-9 RPA is a medium-sized aircraft that has an operational ceiling of 50,000ft, a maximum internal payload of 800lb and an external payload exceeding 3,000lb.

The aircraft has a flight endurance of more than 14 hours.

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The Block 5 configuration of the RPA includes a ‘significantly increased electrical power capability’ and enhanced landing gear.

This configuration will also include the GA-ASI Lynx multi-mode radar and Raytheon electro-optical sensors.

GA-ASI European Regional vice-president Scott Smith said: “The Italian Air Force has long been a leader in the utilisation of MQ-9 RPA to support a wide range of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions in Italy, over the Mediterranean, and in support of Nato operations.

“These enhancements give Italian forces the ability to see better and more clearly than ever with their MQ-9 RPAs and we’re proud to work with the ITAF to update their existing fleet.”

In March 2006, the commander of Air Combat Command (ACC) directed early fielding of MQ-9 Reaper aircraft to meet operational needs.

To meet this early fielding date, the programme was divided into two blocks, with Block 1 providing the initial capability to meet the early fielding date and Block 5 completing the programme to the Increment I requirements.

In November 2009, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified Congress of a possible FMS to Italy of two unarmed MQ-9 UAVs, one mobile GCS and associated parts and equipment.

Recently, the US DSCA notified Congress of a possible FMS of follow-on contractor logistics support (CLS) for MQ-9A Block 5 RPA to Spain.