The SELEX Galileo Falco (meaning "Falcon") is another addition to the ever-growing list of modern Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) intended for military use. First flight of the Falco occurred in December of 2003 and, after additional testing and clearances, the Flaco was formally offered up for the market in 2009. To date, some 50 aircraft have been produced with the first (and only known) customer being Pakistan. The Pakistani military procured some two dozen Falcos since the UAVs inception and has fielded them operationally in activities centering on the Swat Valley. The Flaco is described as a "medium-class" UAV and, in its original base form, is intended solely for reconnaissance and surveillance - therefore not being armed in the same way as the American Predator or Reaper series. The series' main strengths are endurance and performance at altitude, allowing ground commanders a relatively inexpensive and lower risk "eye in the sky" when compared to the use of larger helicopters or aircraft in the same role. The Falco was originally managed by Galileo Avionica which has since formed with SELEX S&AS to come "SELEX Galileo". Before the Falco, SELEX provided high-end electronics and imaging systems to various defense parties. SELEX itself is the child of parent industrial powerhouse company Finmeccanica, founded in 1948 out of Rome.
Outwardly, the Falco mimics the clean streamlined profile of a high-end civilian sports aircraft. The fuselage is well-contoured and aerodynamically refined, sporting high-mounted monoplane wings that are straight in their design and slightly cranked downwards at near-mid span. From the wings emerge thin twin tail booms that mount the vertical tail fins and these are further joined at their base by a horizontal plane. The engine is housed within the aft fuselage and powers a three-bladed propeller assembly in a "pusher" arrangement. The undercarriage is fixed and consists of three landing gear legs, each sporting a single, shrouded wheel. Payloads are managed along the underbelly and can be varied according to operator needs (NBC sensor equipment, electronic countermeasures, thermal imaging, TV, radar, laser designators). Avionics are housed in the nose assembly. Power to the aircraft is supplied by an 80 horsepower engine allowing for top speeds of approximately 135 miles per hour with a service ceiling of 16,500 feet and operational range equal to 14 hours. The Falco is not a small machine by any regard and promotes a running length of 17 feet with a wingspan equal to 24 feet. When at rest, the Falco tops 6 feet in height requiring several hands to set her into place. The UAV can take off under its own power from a completed runway but has also since been tested with a pneumatic catapult launcher for improved in-the-field capabilities. It is assumed that the UAV can be recovered through some sort of erected netting system as well.
As with other UAVs, the Falco is just one component of a complete UAV package offered by its host company. The suite includes the UAV aircraft itself (or several as needed), the Ground Control Station (GCS) and all applicable supporting equipment including the pilot station and mission screens. Information is relayed to the GCS in real-time and full-color, allowing commanders to make quick decisions on-the-fly. Such UAVs as the Falco also hold an advantage in their relatively quiet performance and small profile, often times going unnoticed near concentrations of enemy personnel - as proven by American UAVs in Iraq and Afghanistan. A later development effort has brought about the "Falco EVO" which intends to allow the fielding of guided munitions (2 x missiles underwing), extensively broadening the mission scope of this new Italian UAV. The Falco EVO will be dimensionally larger and perhaps more powerful to compensate for the revised battlefield role.
In May of 2013, it was announced that the Italian government has moved to procure the American RQ-7 Shadow UAV series due to critical operational requirements in the Afghanistan Theater. This serves as something of a blow to the Galileo UAV program and Italian defense industry as a whole where government contracts were historically guaranteed to Italian defense firms.