PARIS — Piaggio Aerospace is pitching its business jet-turned UAV, The P.IHH Hammerhead, as a temporary solution before Europe jointly develops a MALE UAV.
Last month Italy, Germany and France signed to supply the first funding for a tri-nation MALE program designed to give Europe a chance to develop a domestic rival to US and Israeli imports, which have racked up numerous sales in Europe.
In the decade or so before that MALE is ready, Europe should turn to Piaggio Aero for a product that is superior to the Predator or the Heron, said the firm's CEO Carlo Logli.
"We offer what the Predator and the Heron cannot," he said at the Paris Air Show. "Two engines, de-icing, and we are fast, flying at 402 knots — or 350 to 360 knots with payload — which is double the Predator."
The UAV is believed to have roughly the same consumption as the latest model of the P180, which consumes 600lbs of fuel per hour.
The bulbous Hammerhead, which is derived from the manned P180, will be purchased by the Italian Air Force. The model on display at Paris bears the markings of the Italian Air Force UAV unit which will fly it.
When Piaggio launched the Hammerhead at the Paris Air Show two years ago, then Italian procurement chief Gen. Claudio Debertolis said the UAV could be a candidate to become Europe's common MALE program.
On Monday Logli said that was unlikely, given that he believed the common MALE program would involve stealth design. He suggested that the MALE UAV partners could also use the Hammerhead as a testbed for their own development.
"We have said we would like to participate and the idea is that it would be with Finmeccanica," he said.
He did have concerns about the price of the joint program. "They say they can do it for one billion euros. We're spending one billion using a platform that already existed. I think theirs will be more like €1.5 billion to €2 billion," he said.
The Hammerhead has now flown 100 hours of test flights from the Italian Air Force's base at Trapani in Sicily and will undergo final qualification next year.
Originally an Italian owned firm, Piaggio Aerospace is now 98.05 percent controlled by Mubadala Development Company, an Abu Dhabi-based strategic investment and development company.
In return for testing, qualifying and aiding the development of the aircraft, the Italian Air Force will not pay for the four of the aircraft and two ground stations it will order.
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.