July 23, 2010: Italy is buying four Shadow 200 UAV systems from the United States. Each RQ-7B Shadow 200 UAV system uses 20-30 troops to operate and maintain four UAVs and the ground control equipment. Typically, each combat brigade has one Shadow UAV system. Italy is paying $16 million for each RQ-7B system, and this includes spare parts, technical assistance and training.
The Shadow 200 UAVs cost $500,000 each, and can stay in the air six hours per sortie. A day camera and night vision camera is carried on each aircraft. Able to fly as high as 4,900 meters/15,000 feet, the Shadow can thus go into hostile territory and stay high enough (over 3,200 meters/10,000 feet) to be safe from hostile rifle and machine-gun fire.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, most Shadow missions were at a lower altitude, and often over a city or town. Brigade and battalion commanders can then get a constant top down view of what's happening down below. Although this sort of thing is technically possible with a commander in a helicopter overhead, the helicopter attracts too much enemy fire to make this practical for any length of time, and are much more expensive to operate. The Shadow UAV, however, can fly high enough in day time to be safe from enemy fire. A night, the Shadow can come down lower because they are difficult to spot in the dark.
The Italians have been impressed with the Shadow's combat record in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since being introduced eight years ago, American Shadows have been used heavily. The Italian Shadow 200 systems will be delivered next year.