Replaces AW129 Mangusta, Italy's Latest Attack Helicopter Leonardo AW249 NEES Successfully First Fly

Replaces AW129 Mangusta, Italy's Latest Attack Helicopter Leonardo AW249 NEES Successfully First Fly

The Italian Army has been relying on the AW129 Mangusta for a long time as an attack helicopter, it was recorded that since the early 1990s, the Italian Army has operated the Mangusta until now, spawning up to the AH-129D variant. Although it will not be retired in the near future, now the Italian Army has prepared a replacement, in the form of a more modern attack helicopter, namely the Leonardo AW249.

Quoted from (23/8/2022), it is reported that the first prototype of the Leonardo AW249 attack helicopter has flown for the first time on August 12, 2022, from the Leonardo factory in Vergiate, Italy. The helicopter is officially labeled as the AW249 NEES (Nuovo Elicotero da Esplorazione e Scorta / New Exploration and Escort Helicopter), which will replace the AW129 Mangusta.

Leonardo AW249 flies with primer paint and experimental serial CSX82069. The fuselage and tail boom show several stripes made with gray and red bands, with the latter probably being used to mount strain sensors on the surface to monitor stresses on the fuselage during flight. In addition, the helicopter has been equipped with the 20 mm TM197B cannon and the Rafael Toplite targeting system inherited from the Mangusta.

Leonardo has been working on the AW249 project since 2017, when the Italian Ministry of Defense initiated the NEES program, which includes one prototype, three pre-series production helicopters, and the need for up to 48 operational helicopters for the Italian Army.

While at the Farnborough air show, Stefano Villanti, senior vice president of sales at Leonardo Helicopters, said the development of the AW249 had "progressed like clockwork" against the Italian Army's timeline. The Italian Army itself plans to retire the AH-129 from 2025.

Leonardo said the AW249 met the requirements for the latest generation of combat helicopters operating in the rapidly evolving battle space over the next 30 years. "The only new combat helicopter currently in design, will combine advanced technology, outstanding performance and high survivability, along with low operating costs," said a Leonardo spokesman.

The AW249 comes with the need for adaptation to the future battle space. To adapt to rapidly evolving scenarios, the helicopter will incorporate an open systems architecture to enable rapid upgrade and growth capabilities, advanced communications, and a state-of-the-art combat space management system. The need to cooperate with other platforms in network-centric operations, the AW249 will feature manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) capabilities.

Helicopter interoperability and situational awareness are supported by the C2 (Command and control) and C4 (command, control, communications, and computer) systems, along with Software Defined Radios for multi-band Line of Sight (LOS) e Beyond Line Sight communications (BLOS) , Variable Message Format and Link-16 data link, photo and video transmission system (such as ROVER).

Situational awareness will also take advantage of obstacle profile detection and altimetric systems, as well as all standard navigation aids, day, night, and thermal vision systems, as well as displays mounted on helmet mounted displays (HMD). The amount of info will be reported to be displayed on the large area displays (LAD) in both cockpits.

The Leonardo AW249 is powered by a pair of GE Aviation CT7-8E6 (T700) turboshaft engines, producing 2,500hp (1,860kW each). The AW249 has a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) in the range of 7,500 – 8,000 kg (about double the MTOW AW129), with the ability to operate in hot and high and cold weather conditions, with a cruising speed of 259 km per hour and an endurance of three hours. .

Thanks to its MTOW, the AW249 has a reported gun payload that is twice that of the Mangusta. The six hardpoints on the wing will be able to load air-to-ground and air-to-air missiles, guided rockets and external fuel tanks, in addition to the nose-mounted 20 mm cannon. Like the cannon and targeting system, the AW249 will also inherit the Spike anti-tank missile.

Survivability was also a design priority put forward by Leonardo, with ballistic tolerances (e.g. redundancy, critical system separation, dry propulsion capability, armored seats, ballistic tolerant fuel tanks) and collision feasibility (e.g. fuselage, seats and fuel tanks). crash-worthy) integrated features.

The helicopters will feature an advanced self-protection suite, with the Italian Army reportedly opting for the fully digital Elettronica ELT-162 Radar Warning Receiver ELT-162, Elettronica ELT/577 Quiris Directed Infra-Red Counter Measure System (DIRCM) and Missile Warning System (MWS) Leonardo Multi Aperture Infrared (MAIR).

Leonardo AW249 NEES
Leonardo AW249 NEES Details

The AW249 also has several low-detection features to reduce radar cross-section and infrared signatures. While not a stealth helicopter, these features will help make the AW249's detection more difficult for enemies.

Although public information about the Leonardo AW249 is still limited, it has attracted potential export customers. According to some reports, Germany is already in talks with Leonardo and the Italian Ministry of Defense about the possibility of replacing the German Army's Eurocopter Tiger helicopter with the AW249. A report from the BSDA exhibition in Bucharest earlier this year also said that Romania was considering acquiring a number of AW249 helicopters.

Poland is also said to be interested, as in 2018 Leonardo signed a letter of intent (LOI) with the state-owned Polish Armaments Group (PAG) to collaborate on the development of the AW249. The Polish Ministry of Defense, in fact, wants to replace its Mi-24 Hind helicopters, but it was announced earlier this year that the choice was between the Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian and the Bell AH-1Z Viper.

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