Italy will become the third country to fly armed drones, after the US and Britain, following a nod from the US State Department, Italian media reported.

The US government has approved the sale of the technology that 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, said the report on Thursday, 5 November.

"This will contribute to US foreign policy and security, boosting the capability of a NATO ally that has been an integral member of every recent operation led by the alliance and the US," said a US State Department spokesman, announcing the €15.6-million upgrade.

The US Congress now has 15 days to block the move — something that is said to be unlikely.

However, the Italian air force pilots and technicians will need to receive training in the new weapons systems before they can be put into use, the report added.

Some observers noted that the US government has sanctioned the weapon sale in order to ease the burden on its own armed forces in the Middle East.

Italy currently has 12 drones in service — six Reaper MQ-9A drones and six Predator MQ-IC A+.

Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government had requested US permission to arm Italian air force drones in 2008.