ROME — The Italian Air Force will be the launch customer of the P.1HH HammerHead UAV, its manufacturer Piaggio Aerospace said Thursday.

The Italian Air Force will acquire three UAV systems, including six platforms and three ground control stations, by 2016, the firm said, complete with ISR systems.

The HammerHead is an unmanned version of Piaggio's P180 business jet, equipped with systems supplied by Finmeccanica unit Selex. A prototype flew for the first time from Sicily's Trapani Birgi Air Base in December.

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.

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The Italian Air Force has been closely involved in the development of the UAV, which some have seen as a shot across the bows of European industry attempts to convince governments to pool efforts on a European MALE UAV.

As General Atomics steps up its Predator UAV sales campaign in Europe, Italy has now committed to buying a UAV from a Gulf-owned company.

Speaking at the Paris Air Show launch of the Hammerhead in 2013, then Italian procurement chief Gen. Claudio Debertolis, said the UAV could be a candidate to become Europe's common MALE program.

Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.

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