The United Arab Emirates is set to buy eight unarmed Italian-built drones for around $350 million, according to a press release from manufacturer Piaggio Aerospace. The aircraft, known as the Piaggio P.1HH Hammerhead, are fitted with ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) equipment and are ordinarily used for monitoring illegal immigration, potential terror threats and critical infrastructure.
The Italian-based company, better known for its range of motorcycle and scooter companies, will start deliveries of the aircraft later this year, according to the press release.
“This important contract recognizes Piaggio Aerospace’s efforts in establishing a world-class military program and state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities that position the business for long-term sustainable success,” said Carlo Logli, CEO of Piaggio Aerospace, who spoke at the Unmanned Systems Exhibition and Conference in Abu Dhabi.
The aircraft will be equipped with EO/IR (Electro-Optical Infra-Red) cameras, radar and communications systems; the contract also includes integrated logistic support and training.
Although it’s not clear what the UAE has planned for the drones, the country is currently part of a Saudi-led coalition that is conducting airstrikes in Yemen against Houthi rebels and in Syria against the Islamic State group.
The purchase of the drones was not a surprise, according to a report by New Europe, which says Piaggio Aerospace is owned by Mubadala, an Abu Dhabi-based strategic investment firm. The firm invested in the company with the express purpose of having the Hammerhead drone built, said the report.
Along with the UAE, the Italian military and customers in the U.S. are also expected to take delivery of the aircraft in the coming 12 months.
The Italian military has prioritized drone technology in recent months, asking the U.S. Department of Defense for permission last November to arm its General Atomics-built MQ-9 Reaper drones for use in conflicts in the Middle East. The permission to arm was part of a $129.6 million deal to sell U.S.-made munitions, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, an arm of the Pentagon that overseas foreign military sales.