PARIS – In what many are calling an important shift in Italy’s mentality on arming unmanned aircraft systems, Leonardo showcased for the first time its Falco Xplorer drone fitted with an MBDA Brimstone missile at the Paris Air Show.

Italian defense company Leonardo has been in the business of producing UAS for two decades, and today some sixty units of its Falco drones are in use worldwide. The company has in the past advertised its systems primarily for civilian operations as well as intelligence and surveillance-based missions. This has in part reflected a tendency that has existed in the broader Italian defense culture over time, which could somewhat be considered as a resistance or even taboo towards arming these types of systems.

This could be changing as Leonardo displayed its light medium-altitude long endurance, or MALE, drone, the Falco Xplorer, mounted with MBDA’s lightweight Brimstone missile at the Paris Air Show, going on this week. Although only one was visible, a company representative told Defense News that it could be fitted with a total of four missiles.

“MBDA and Leonardo are cooperating together on integrating Brimstone on the Falco Xplorer and are also currently doing joint integration studies and demonstrations,” the representative said.

The ambition is to have this variant available on the market for customers by 2025. It was not developed in response to a requirement issued specifically by the Italian Air Force, rather responding to a demand by other customers, they said.

The FALCO Xplorer has a maximum payload of 350 kilograms (772 lbs) and has an endurance of 24 hours.

Concerning potential sales, it is likely to peak the interest of existing Brimstone operators. Beyond the U.K., the missiles have in the past been sold to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Germany and most recently Ukraine for use as a surface-launched ground attack system. The Spanish Air Force also selected the weapon earlier this year to equip its fleet of Eurofighters.

Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.

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