Italy will become the third country to fly armed drones along with the United States and the United Kingdom following a nod from the US state department, Italian rolling news channel TG 24 reported on Thursday.
The US government has approved the sale of technology which will be used to upgrade two Italian Air Force Reaper MQ-9A drones, allowing them to carry air-to-surface missiles, such as the Hellfire II or laser-guided bombs like the GBU-12, TG 24 said.
"This will contribute to US foreign policy and security, boosting the capability of a NATO ally which has been an integral member of every recent operation led by the alliance and the US," a State Department spokesman said, announcing the 15.6 million euro upgrade.
The US Congress now has 15 days to block the move – something that is said to be unlikely. However, Italian airforce pilots and technicians will need to receive training in the new weapons systems before they can be put into use, TG 24 said.
The US government has sanctioned the weapons sale in order to ease the burden on its own armed forces in the Middle East, according to some observers.
Italy current has 12 drones in service - six Reaper MQ-9A drones and a further six Predator MQ-IC A+.
Italy's drones are currently used in surveillance missions in Iraq and in its the Mediterranean, supporting the Eunavformed operation against migrant traffickers and the Italian navy in counter-terrorism patrols.
Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's government had requested US permission to arm Italian airforce drones in 2008.