Italy was among the first countries to purchase unarmed Predator drones from the United States, acquiring six in 2001. This initial purchase was followed by an additional six MQ-9 Reapers in 2006, all of which are stationed at the Amendola Air Base at the disposal of the 28th Group (called Streghe) of the Italian Armed Forces. Italy has deployed its drones for ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Targeting, Acquisition and Reconnaissance) purposes in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Djibouti, Somalia, Kosovo, Syria, the Mediterranean and Italy itself. The Italian Ministry of Defense budgetary planning of 2021 revealed plans to arm the Reaper drones. However, these funding plans still need to be discussed in and approved by the Italian parliament.
Ever since the US government has allowed Italy to arm its drones in 2015, years went by where this question was surrounded by ambiguity. The 2021 budgetary planning of the Ministry of Defense however, detailed a planned spending of €59 million scheduled over the next seven years to arm Italy’s Reaper drones. It is not clear what type of weapons are foreseen to be integrated in the MQ-9’s; the budget only outlines the intention to equip them with ‘new electronic warfare equipment’ and probably ‘standard munition.’
Italy is part of the Eurodrone project with Germany, France and Spain, brought into life to compete against Israeli- and US-made Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). As of January 2022, the project has green light to develop 20 Medium-Altitude and Long-Endurance (MALE) drones. The Italian company Leonardo is expected to build parts of the European military drone. Italy is also part of the nEUROn combat drone project and the ‘drone users’ club.
Since February 2016, the Italian government has allowed the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) to use the Italian air base Sigonella and let (armed) drones take off from the base, the Main Operating Base for NATOs Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) located in Sicily, to mount defensive operations in North-Africa and the Sahel, for example against ISIS and al-Qaeda in Libya. So far, several civil organizations have pursued litigation actions but there has been little public opposition against the assistance of Italy in US drone operations.