The P.1HH Hammerhead UAV is based on Piaggio Aero's manned P.180 business aircraft. (Piaggio Aero)
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DUBAI AND ROME — The successful test flight of the Piaggio Aero P.1HH Hammerhead UAV has been welcomed by the Italian Air Force as it looks to intensify its maritime surveillance operations. Lt. Gen. Pasquale Preziosa, chief of staff of the Italian Air Force, said at the Dubai Air Chief Conference this week that the Hammerhead will increase the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities in its fight against illegal immigration.
“It will give us the possibility to increase our capability in ISR, especially when we are facing in the Mediterranean illegal immigration from North Africa approaching Lampedusa,” he said.
The test flight took place at Sicily’s Trapani air base on Nov. 14, according to Piaggio Aero.
The Hammerhead features two pusher propellers and canards on the nose. It offers a 15.5-meter wing span, maximum takeoff weight of 6,146 kilograms and will fly to 45,000 feet with 16 hours endurance, with the company claiming it can get to a target faster and stay on target longer than rivals.
Pasquale said that he hoped the UAV would be operational soon.
Last week, United Arab Emirates (UAE) investment fund Mubadala beefed up its stake in Piaggio Aero from 33 to 41 percent, as part of an equity increase of €190 million (US $255 million).
Tata Limited, a UK offshoot of India’s Tata Group, also increased its stake from 33 to 44.5 percent.
“The [Hammerhead] is an example of very good cooperation between Italy and the UAE,” Pasquale said.
During Monday’s announcement, Mubadala CEO Khaldoon al-Mubarak was present alongside Alberto Galassi, CEO of Piaggio Aero, Pasquale and Fabrizio Giulianini, CEO of Selex ES.
Despite the equity increase, Galassi said the product remains a 100 percent Italian product that will be used exclusively by the Italian Air Force and its NATO partners.
“At this stage, Mubadala is a fundamental shareholder to develop this program,” he said. “It is an Italian program classified by the Italian government and is certified by the Italian Air Force.”
Galassi said he hopes the program will achieve certification by the end of 2014.
“First of all, before looking for customers, you need to achieve certification, so this is the mission of 2014. Plenty of NATO countries are interested in having this program and we will see if there will be export versions of it. But of course, there are some limitations and classifications,” he said.
“I’m expecting NATO countries to be our first and most important customers.”
Italian procurement chief Gen. Claudio Debertolis said at this summer’s Paris Air Show that Italy could buy 10 of the aircraft, adding that he was also tipping the UAV as a candidate for a common European medium-altitude, long-endurance drone program and would assist in promoting it to other countries.
Italy’s Selex ES will supply an electro-optical turret, forward-looking infrared, its e-scan Seaspray 7300 radar and mission management system.
“We partnered with Piaggio less than two years ago to develop it under a crash program and we achieved the maiden flight in an incredibly short time,” Giulianini said.
Giulianini said he is confident that they can achieve certification by the end of 2014.
“At the end of 2014, we will have full operational capability and of course then we will have further development by adding a full payload because this is a multiple mission aircraft,” he said.
Selex has provided the vehicle control and management systems, aviation systems and avionics on board, Giulianini said. Furthermore, the data link system, ground control station and the management system with the sensors has also been developed by Selex.