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Dissecting The Italian Defense Planning Document For 2022-2024

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Dissecting The Italian Defense Planning Document For 2022-2024
An Italian Air Force F-35B during a joint training mission with an Italian Navy F-35B. (Photo: Aeronautica Militare)

The Italian MoD is continuing the modernization of the military, with investments in many areas that will also sustain the national industry.

The Italian government published, during the summer, the new multiyear defense planning document (Documento Programmatico Pluriennale della Difesa) for 2022-2024, which illustrates the funding needed by the Italian military to sustain and modernize its forces. Many important investments can be found in the document, but let’s proceed in order.

The strategic situation is based, as last year, on a reference scenario, called the “extended Mediterranean” region, which is currently subject to many important geopolitical changes. Among the critical aspects of the region, the document mentions the Libyan situation, the tensions between coastal countries that are rearming their military forces, the disputes about sea boundaries and commercial routes. These challenges add up to the global situation, with COVID-19 and the new role of Russia and China becoming increasingly important.

The Italian Ministry of Defense is focused on maintaining a balanced military power, while also renovating and potentiating it with new capabilities. An important novelty in the last few years are the space and cyber domains, which are set to provide new space for innovation in the informational and decisional sectors.

The systemic shock caused by the dramatic evolution of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, whose economic and social repercussions are noticeable in an international context already burdened by the echo of the pandemic and by multiple situations of unresolved conflict, will radically change the world order and European security that we have known so far, says the document.

The invasion brought back the attention to the importance of symmetrical conflicts against near peer adversaries, after decades of asymmetrical conflict against irregular forces, revealed a significant conventional, cyber and space threat, and even evoked again the nuclear threat. The return of war in Europe, which someone thought would accentuate the disagreements among the European countries, has instead determined the effect of cementing the cohesion of NATO and of raising the role of the European Union to an organization with a geopolitical value.

This is contrary to the expectations of Russia, which believed it could count on a disunited NATO and on a weak European Union unable to decide. Also, this was an eye-opener about the need for a strengthened military, after years of postponed investments which were needed to increase its deterrent value and to respect the commitments, undertaken in the NATO context, for the achievement of the threshold of 2% of GDP for the Defense budget.

In this perspective, the Defense minister Lorenzo Guerini outlined four fundamental strategic priorities: promote an appropriate positioning of Italy in the context of international security; give further impetus to the process of adapting the military instrument; fully exploit the potential that can be expressed by the Defense Industry; continue efforts in terms of policies suitable for addressing current and future challenges.

Let’s now talk about the programs in place to reach the objectives of this year’s Defense planning.

One of the main activities for the aerospace component of the Command, Control and Communications (C3) is the completion of the acquisition of the Gulfstream G550-based CAEW/BM&C capability, as well as a new Electronic Warfare capability. The program, known as P-MMMS (Piattaforma Multi-Missione, Multi- Sensore/Multi-Mission, Multi-Sensor Platform), is aimed at obtaining a modern asset that can be integrated in a net-centric C4ISTAR architecture and later adapted for multi-domain operations.

The resulting C6ISTAR-EW-enabled assets are the CAEW, Spydr and JAMMS aircraft that have been in the works for some years. As we reported last year, a number of “clean” G550 are being acquired to be converted at a later stage, like the one delivered earlier this year. These aircraft, that the document calls “green base JAMMS”, are scheduled to be converted in the Full Mission Capable CAEW and Electronic Combat variants. A contract for the conversion of two more CAEW aircraft might have already been signed.

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The first Gulfstream G550 delivered to the Italian Air Force to be converted for the P-MMMS program. (Photo: Aeronautica Militare)

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The first Gulfstream G550 delivered to the Italian Air Force to be converted for the P-MMMS program. (Photo: Aeronautica Militare)

An interesting piece of information possibly related to the P-MMMS program can be found under the Force Protection and Engagement Capability entry, which hints at the Electronic Combat variant of the aircraft possibly being the EC-37B Compass Call. In fact, the entry says: “Completion of the acquisition program for new aircraft equipped for and dedicated to Electronic Warfare operations (EC-37B)”.

As you may know already, the Compass Call system is an airborne tactical electronic attack weapon system installed on a heavily modified version of the C-130 Hercules, called EC-130H Compass Call. This system disrupts enemy command and control communications, radars, and navigation systems and limits adversary coordination, which is essential for enemy force management. Following the type’s retirement announced in 2014, the U.S. Air Force initiated the Compass Call Rehost program, which will move the current Compass Call systems from the EC-130H to the new EC-37B, based on the Gulfstream G550 Conformal Airborne Early Warning Aircraft (CAEW) airframe.

Staying on the Electronic Warfare topic, the EC-27J JEDI (Jamming and Electronic Defense Instrumentation) fleet is being expanded to a total of three aircraft, with two new ones in the RRP2 (Risk Reduction Phase 2) configuration being converted, together with the procurement of their ground segment and mission system. As we already reported, the EC-27J is a variant of the successful Leonardo C-27J Spartan military transport aircraft that has been heavily modified to perform EW missions: the aircraft carries an internal JEDI system that is coupled with a tail antenna to jam the frequency bands used to remotely operate IEDs and UAVs, in order to neutralize them and thus protect personnel on the ground around areas of interest.

The capabilities provided by the secretive EC-27J (whose official designation is YEC-27J in accordance with Italy’s MOD Mission Design Series) are intended for the execution of convoy escort missions where it provides from the air an electromagnetic safety bubble. The aircraft was deployed to Erbil, Iraq, for “Prima Parthica” (as the Italian Armed Forces contingent supporting Operation Inherent Resolve is dubbed at national level). Interestingly, the EC-27J of the Italian Air Force is the only non-American asset flying the Electronic Support and Protection mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

Speaking of the C-27J, the planning mentions the works for the completion of the MC-27J Praetorian program. The MC-27 is a special variant of the Spartan developed to provide support for the Special Forces of the Comando Operativo Forze Speciali (COFS). Three C-27J that were already in service and the ItAF were converted to the Praetorian configuration with the addition of mission systems, C3ISR equipment and a palletized ATK GAU-23 30mm automatic cannon, the same used by the USAF AC-130J.

The Defense planning also includes the Spydr, mentioning the leasing of an aircraft equipped with specialized sensors as gap filler until a dedicated asset capable of assuring a full threat detection. This entry should refer to the two King Air 350s, one of which is a mission-equipped aircraft and the other one used for training purposes, leased from L3Harris. The aircraft is expected to be replaced by Gulfstream G550 aircraft with AISREW Mission Systems whose Foreign Military Sale was approved by the U.S. State Department in 2020.

Two aircraft will be provided by Italy to be converted, with L3Harris being the company contracted to carry out the modification. The “final” shape of the Italian AISREW aircraft should be similar to the one of the Australian MC-55 Peregrine, a SIGINT-configured G550 that L3Harris is providing to the Royal Australian Air Force and developed based on the experience of the EC-37 Compass Call II and other variants. It seems likely that all the modifications will be embedded at a later stage and the first airframe will be initially used for training purposes.

Italy is also continuing its participation in the Maritime Multi Mission Aircraft (M3A) program with other NATO allies, whose aim is to procure a dedicated aircraft for long range surveillance above and belove the sea surface. The M3A is expected to create a new generation of maritime surveillance aircraft that will eventually replace older platform currently in service.

The planning then moves to the information superiority section, with its Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance capabilities enabled by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. The first to be mentioned is the EUROMALE program, the first unmanned aerial system (UAS) designed for flight in non-segregated airspace. The airframe is a twin-turboprop with pusher-propeller engines being developed by an Airbus, Leonardo and Dassault consortium. The system is set to provide a generational leap compared to current assets, integrating open architecture, high modularity and ease of evolution.

The other programs in the ISR section are related to the continuation of the modernization, potentiation and completion of the MQ-9 fleet, all listed under the Mid Life Modernization (MLM) and operational capabilities maintenance programs. One of the focuses of these programs is the payload, with the upgrade of sensors and command and control systems to the latest standards.

The document mentions: ”The aircraft will guarantee increased levels of safety and protection in convoys escort missions, providing a flexible defense capability that can be expressed from the air. It will also introduce a new protection option aimed both at forces on the ground and for the benefit of aerial assets during high intensity operations and, ultimately, to protect civilians in the event of a hybrid threat”. This explanation, which was also in last year’s document, was said to refer to the weaponization of the MQ-9.

The weapons were explicitly mentioned in a subsequent entry: “Modernization and renewal of the RPA fleet of the MLE category, the Predator platform, related weapons and interim solutions”. Actually, the U.S. State Department already approved in 2015 a possible FMS to Italy for the weaponization of the MQ-9, but there is no follow-on info about it. The FMS package included AGM-114R2 Hellfire missiles, GBU-12 and GBU-49 laser guided bombs, GBU-38 JDAM and GBU-54 Laser JDAM bombs.

The Mid Life Modernization includes the procurement of two new MQ-9A Block 5 aircraft and a ground station, in addition to the upgrade of the other five to the same configuration. One of the new Predators (the name Reaper has not been adopted in Italy) will replace the one shot down in Libya in 2019. Also, the Italian MoD is looking for a new RPA that will replace the MQ-1C Predator A+.

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A rendering of the Tempest 6th gen aircraft. (Image: BAE Systems)

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A rendering of the Tempest 6th gen aircraft. (Image: BAE Systems)

While it didn’t provide any new details, this year’s document mentions again the Tempest 6th generation fighter aircraft and the wider Future Combat Air System (FCAS) program. Tempest is intended to preserve the dominance of the air combat power by capitalizing the Italian and British participation to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. FCAS is described in the program summary as a system of systems, with an optionally unmanned aircraft, manned-unmanned teaming, advanced sensors and related technologies.

The UK, Italy and Sweden signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2021 to collaborate on the project, transforming the British FCAS project in a major international endeavour. As of now, Sweden has not yet fully committed to join Tempest, but it is closely observing the process while working on the wider FCAS effort. Anyway, the three countries aspire to develop the concepts, sharing workload while maximizing their national expertise as they strive towards a common goal. The goal of the MoU is to have an equal participation of the signatory countries in the activities related to Tempest, with positive effects on each own defense industry, small and medium enterprises, research institutes and universities.

Japan is also joining the FCAS program, after a Letter of Arrangement signed earlier this year with the UK. The two countries will conduct cooperative research in fighter jet sensor technology, focusing on what has been called the “Jaguar” system. The “Jaguar” aims at the development of universal frequency sensor technology to allow aircraft to “better detect future threats from air, land and sea, quickly and accurately locating targets and denying surveillance technology operated by adversaries. Japan’s expected role in the FCAS effort has since expanded, including the JNAAM long-range air-to-air missile (which will benefit from the Meteor BVRAAM technology) and a possible merge of the indigenous F-X program with Tempest.

After the 6th gen, the document moves to the current 5th gen with the F-35 Lightning II. The MoD says the program is proceeding as planned for the first two tranches of aircraft, called Phase 1 and Phase 2a. Phase 1 satisfied the requirements for the acquisition of the first 28 aircraft, their engines, equipment, initial expenses and retrofit, together with logistical support until 2022 and the preparation of the national sites in Amendola, Ghedi and the Cavour aircraft carrier.

Now, the Phase 2a has been initiated thanks to a strategy that will avoid further delays in the program and savings which could amount up to one billion euros. This phase covers the procurement of 27 new aircraft, together with their engines and equipment, and the extension of the logistical support. This will allow for a full operational capability from 2030. Also, by the end of the year, the MoD will start the preliminary negotiation for Phase 2b, which will lead to the acquisition of a further 35 aircraft. The total expense expected until 2032 is of seven billion euros. Also, the revenues from the F-35 program on the national industries have reached, by the end of 2021, a total of € 5.17 billion.

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An UH-169B of the Italian Army, used to train crews for the future AW169 LUH in the final configuration. (Photo: Leonardo)

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An UH-169B of the Italian Army, used to train crews for the future AW169 LUH in the final configuration. (Photo: Leonardo)

The Defense planning moves on with the assets currently in service. The Eurofighter Typhoon program now mentions the development of next generation, advanced technology sensors to better promote the national industry in the transition towards the 6th generation. At the same time, the Tornado program is looking to the upgrade of the aircraft to solve obsolescence issues due to the aging technology and to extend the operational life until the planned phase-out date (which has not yet been officially decided).

The Italian Air Force will also work on the completion of its helicopter fleet for the Search And Rescue and Slow Mover Intercept missions. The first entry sees the completion of the acquisition of the HH-139 rescue helicopter, which is an interim solution for a medium helicopter. Earlier this year, the ItAF took delivery of the last HH-139B and the service will now move to the conversion of the HH-139A helicopters to the new B variant. At the same time, the HH-101 CSAR helicopter will be upgraded to the Mission Enhanced standard to better sustain operations in non-permissive environments.

Talking about support assets, this year’s planning confirms the intention of the Italian MoD to acquire two new KC-46 tankers and upgrade the current KC-767s to the same standard. Moreover, the initiation of a strategic transport program is mentioned, without providing further details.

The next topic covered by the planning is the training. The ItAF will strengthen the Operational Training Infrastructure (OTI), focusing on a high integration between live, virtual and constructive activities, while continuing to work with the T-345 and T-346 programs. The OTI program will develop a geo-federate, modular, resilient and secure open architecture, connecting flight simulators, simulation systems and C2 systems to create a common synthetic environment that will reproduce real, complex and highly variable operational environments. An integral part of this program is the modernization of the Poligono Interforze Salto di Quirra (PISQ).

Important news are coming also for the helicopter training, with a new helicopter flight school being established in Viterbo, currently home of the Army’s flight school. The new school will exploit the ItAF’s expertise in this sector, with the aim of satisfying the requirement for a joint national training centre for all helicopter pilots, as well as satisfying the requirements for the equivalent civilian licenses and offering training to international partners. The ItAF is also leading the efforts for the new school on behalf of the armed forces and law enforcement agencies.

The current plan is based around a training area, an operational area (with maintenance, storage and helicopter recovery functions) and a logistic area. The school will employ the new AW169 Light Utility Helicopter to satisfy the requirements of the phase 3b of the training, exploiting the gradual replacement of the six legacy helicopter fleets with the new helicopter. The phase 3b training on the LUH will follow the phase 3a currently performed on the TH-500 helicopter, providing an advanced training phase between the initial 3a training and the helicopters assigned to the operational units.

The school will have a structure similar to the one for the jet pilots at Lecce-Galatina Air Base. In fact, the project is based around an Integrated Training System (ITS) which will include the LUH and the Ground Based Training System (GBTS). The GBTS will be in charge of the ground school, with an Academic Training System, Full Flight Simulators and Flight training Devices, advanced briefing and debriefing systems.

Obviously, the Army will continue to work on the LUH program and, after a first tranche of 17 helicopters approved in 2019, a new tranche of 33 helicopters has been approved. This new combat support helicopter, as we already reported, is not the only new entry in the Italian Army. In fact, the works are proceeding also on the new Leonardo AW249 NEES (Nuovo Elicottero da Esplorazione e Scorta / New Exploration and Escort Helicopter), which is in the middle of an extensive flight test campaign. The MoD expects to procure up to 48 attack helicopters, which will replace the AH-129D currently in service.

Last but not least, the Italian MoD is also working on a Next Generation Fast Helicopter (NGFH)/ Next Generation Rotorcraft (NGRC). Contacts have been established with the U.S. Army for the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program, with the Minister of Defense also visiting Bell’s facilities to see the V-280 Valor tilt-rotor and the B-360 Invictus reconnaissance helicopter.

About Stefano D’Urso
Stefano D’Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he’s also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.

Leonardo Inaugurates A New State-Of-The-Art Helicopter Training Academy In The United States

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FThe flight simulator’s hangar of the Leonardo Helicopter Training Academy in Philadelphia and, in the box, the maintenance training hangar. (Photo: Leonardo)

The new Helicopter Training Academy will provide training for both pilots and maintenance crews on the AW119, AW169, AW139 models and, in a near future, the new AW609 tiltrotor.

Leonardo announced that a new state-of-the-art Helicopter Training Academy has been inaugurated in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 29, 2021. The Academy, which was first announced in 2019, is located in the company’s campus in northeast Philadelphia that also includes production, support and administrative functions for the United States.

“We purposely co-located the Academy next to our main production, support, and administrative offices because we wanted to not only provide cutting-edge training with modern technology to our customers, but also give them an inside view of our organization, our culture, and how our product is made and maintained with a constant emphasis on quality and safety” said Bill Hunt, CEO of AgustaWestland Philadelphia Corporation and Managing Director of Leonardo Helicopters US.

The training centre, which mirrors the functions and services of the other Leonardo Academy located in Sesto-Calende, Italy, is part of an USD 80 million investment in United States operations that will provide training services for a growing demand and need for pilots, cabin crews and maintenance technicians across North and South America.

The first Leonardo Helicopter Training Academy opened in Sesto-Calende in 2006 and in its inaugural year provided training to 600 students, which increased by the 2018-2020 period to an average of 10,000 annually across the company’s similar facilities in the United Kingdom, Poland and Malaysia as well as other authorized training centres.

Among its services, the Philadelphia Helicopter Training Academy will provide ground, air and virtual training, leveraging also simulator capabilities jointly developed by Leonardo and CAE and operated by their Rotorsim joint venture, initially established in 2003 to provide synthetic training solutions for AW109 Power and AW139 helicopter operators and later expanded to include AW109 LUH (Light Utility Helicopter), AW109N Nexus, AW189, AW169 and NH90 training.

Alessandro Profumo, Leonardo CEO, said: “In our sector, only organizations with a clear vision, strategy and consistency in execution can aim for a sustainable long-term business and become strategic assets for their countries. We want to be regarded as a partner, not just a supplier, by continuing to ensure an outstanding service and training experience. And we integrate these capabilities into our unique helicopter offer with the ambition of becoming the world leader in the sector. Advanced simulation, augmented reality, artificial intelligence – all embedded today in our US Academy – are examples of this vision. It can leverage on game-changing technologies we are deploying and on investments in the deep digitalization of our offer and processes.”

You can find a tour of the facility in the video here below:

Specifically, the Philadelphia Academy features training services for the AW119, AW169, AW139 models and will also be home to the training services for global customers of the world’s first tiltrotor set to receive civil certification, the AW609. The company reports that customers are already training in the new centre.

Regarding the training for the AW609 in Philadelphia, it looks like it might start in a not very distant future. Last month, the fourth AW609 (AC4), fully representative of the final production configuration, was shipped from Leonardo’s Philadelphia facility, where it was built, to Genoa’s harbor in Italy and later flown to Leonardo Helicopters’ headquarters in Cascina Costa.

The aircraft, initially developed together with Bell and now fully owned by Leonardo, is scheduled to remain there to support the final stage of program testing ahead of civil certification, as well as customer-dedicated demonstration activities for European operators and other potential users worldwide. The industrialization, customer service and training service of the AW609 program is currently intensifying in Philadelphia through the new training academy and a new final assembly hangar.

The Academy’s goal is to provide ground, in-flight and virtual training to student pilots, with an array of digital courses, flight activities, simulation and mission training available to meet any mission profile, and comprehensive maintenance training to the technicians in their very own wing of the Academy that also comes equipped with a large array of maintenance training devices and displays.

Leonardo Helicopter Training Academy
The AW609 simulator and its cockpit. (Photo: Leonardo)

Among the features of the Training Academy in the US, Leonardo mentioned :

  • 10 multi-media classrooms equipped with the latest technology, designed to provide interactive 2D/3D graphic content that allows for simulating and engaging learning and instruction.
  • Three maintenance simulators (one AW139, one AW119 and soon one AW609) to provide up close familiarity with all aspects of the aircraft through hands-on experience for students (both technicians and pilots) to learn in the classroom and then practice on the trainers.
  • Two full-flight motion simulators (one AW139 and one AW169/AW609 with roll-on/rolloff capability), jointly developed by Leonardo and CAE, to provide realistic training for specific missions, including off-shore, law enforcement, EMS and passenger transport. Additionally, an empty bay exists to allow the addition of a third full flight simulator to be added in the future to be based on demand.
  • Special amenities for the students to relax or exercise while taking a break from the training.

According to the press release, this one-of-a-kind Academy strengthens the role of Leonardo as the only helicopter OEM (Original equipment manufacturer) that has an own capability of designing, developing, delivering, qualifying, supporting and operating the fullest range of Training Systems, with certified OEM-data into the simulated environment.

Gian Piero Cutillo, Leonardo Helicopters MD, added: “Our new US Training Academy will help to serve the largest market for helicopters in the global industry, and will be part of a continued process to guarantee customer proximity and expand our range of offer. We are committed to devoting every possible effort to continue to build a training culture as part of our value proposition, a true benefit of all our stakeholders, customers, end-users.”

The global helicopter market is continuously expanding and expected to reach USD 68.34 billion by 2027, as published by Fortune Business Insights in its Helicopter Market 2020-2027 report, showing a 20 billion increase since the market value of USD 48.19 billion in 2019. Airbus also predicted that a huge demand for around 22,000 new rotorcrafts is expected in the next 20 years. If we focus on the North American helicopter market, currently the largest in the world, it is expected to grow from USD 14.41 billion in 2019 to about USD 19 billion in 2027.

Since 1980, Philadelphia has been the headquarters for the helicopter business of Leonardo in the United States. Located at Northeast Philadelphia Airport (KPNE) just minutes outside the Central Business District, the facility has grown over the last 40 years from a basic service center to the Leonardo’s US Industrial Center of Excellence for helicopters. Leonardo is committed to providing leading, comprehensive support and training services to deliver unprecedented benefits to customers in terms of safety, quality, effectiveness, cost, and sustainability as a cornerstone of Leonardo’s Be Tomorrow 2030 Strategic Plan, according to the press release.

Leonardo’s efforts have also been rewarded as, for the third year in a row, the company ranked in first place in the turbine category for the helicopter manufacturer product survey organized by the American magazine Professional Pilot concerning the support provided to helicopter operators by manufacturing companies. This is a scientific survey involving operators who buy and use helicopters around the world and who evaluate OEMs on seven different aspects of the support received.

As emerged last month from the survey, Leonardo ranked first in all support categories, with an overall score of 8.64 out of 10 in 244 responses from the customers. In the ranking, Leonardo is followed by the American manufacturers Bell and Sikorsky and, slightly more distanced, Airbus.

Stefano D’Urso is a contributor for TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. He’s a full-time engineering student and aspiring pilot. In his spare time he’s also an amateur aviation photographer and flight simulation enthusiast.

First AW169 In New Advanced Light Utility Helicopter Configuration Begins Flight Testing

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The first AW1 Light Utility Helicopter photographed in flight. (Photo: Oscar Bernardi)

The AW169 LUH helicopter, based on the AW169M light intermediate twin-engine helicopter, features a new skid landing gear which replaces the standard retractable gear.

The first Leonardo AW169 LUH (Light Utility Helicopter) was recently photographed at the beginning of its flight testing. The photo you can see in this article, taken by photographer Oscar Bernardi, shows the first helicopter in the new configuration which has been assigned s/n 72001 and experimental serial CSX 82014.

The AW169 LUH is based on the AW169M, the military variant of the AW169 light intermediate twin-engine helicopter, designed to carry out a wide range of tasks, including utility, surveillance, special operations, maritime patrol, land reconnaissance, training, rescue and firefighting. The main differences that we can spot in the photos, compared to the baseline AW169, are the skid landing gear, which replaces the standard retractable landing gear, and an expanded nose for additional equipment.

The LUH program was initiated by the Italian Ministry of Defence to replace the ageing Combat Support Helicopters (Elicotteri da Supporto al Combattimento, ESC) currently in service with the Italian Army, like the A-109, AB-205, AB-206, AB-212 and AB-412, while filling the gaps due to the obsolescence of the current fleet and optimizing logistics with a single-platform fleet, instead of the current one based on five different helicopters that were put in service between the 1970s and the 1990s.

This first AW169 LUH, however, seems scheduled to be delivered to the Guardia di Finanza (Custom Police) next year, together with a second helicopter. The Army could be receiving the first new helicopter in 2022, while the Carabinieri (Military Police) will get theirs a year later. Actually, the Army already received a training version of the LUH, which has been designated UH-169B.

The requirements set for the program by the MoD requested an helicopter that was already in service in other Italian armed forces and law enforcement agencies, with Command and Control (C2) systems already in service or in the acquisition phase, a service life of 10,000 flight hours or no less than 30 years and the capability to communicate and transmit images and videos to the troops on the ground, both with Italian assets and in a joint/NATO environment, following the Army’s Forza NEC (Network Enabled Capability) program. The helicopter has also to perform in a “dual use” role for civilian Search And Rescue (SAR), MEDical EVAcuation (MEDEVAC), surveillance, firefighting and support in the event of natural calamities.

The advanced multirole configuration of the AW169 LUH currently in development will be externally similar to the one photographed here for the Guardia di Finanza and will feature dedicated flight and mission equipment including NVG-compatible integrated glass cockpit, advanced C4 systems (Command, Control, Communication and Computers), rescue hoist and rappelling/fast roping equipment, Electro-Optical/Infra-Red (EO/IR) system, self-defense systems, searchlight, loudspeakers, cargo hook and both internal and external weapon stations.

The training version of the AW169 LUH, designated UH-169B, delivered to the Italian Army earlier this year. (Photo: Leonardo)

The Army program called for 22 helicopters in both the training and advanced multirole LUH configuration versions when it was presented last year to the Italian Parliament, with the most recent public preliminary report from ARMAEREO (Direzione degli Armamenti Aeronautici e per l’Aeronavigabilità or Aeronautical Armaments and Airworthiness Directorate) mentioning 15 helicopters in the advanced multirole configuration. According to some sources, the five helicopters not mentioned in the ARMAEREO report for the Army will go to the Carabinieri.

As for the Guardia di Finanza program, this first helicopter is likely to be the first of 22 AW169s ordered in 2018 to supplement the 14 helicopters already on order and being delivered in the maritime patrol, reconnaissance and law enforcement roles. Among the specialized equipment over the base LUH configuration, this helicopter will get Leonardo’s Gabbiano surveillance radar (which will likely go in the elongated nose) and LEOSS multi-sensor Electro-Optical (EO) turret.

Last month Austria showed interest in the AW169 LUH, with a letter of intent signed on Nov. 16 to collaborate in the LUH program. Austria is willing to acquire 18 AW169M LUHs to replace its obsolete fleet of Aerospatiale Alouette IIIs, which are scheduled to be phased out by 2023, with deliveries of the new helicopter possibly beginning in 2022. The AW169 LUH won over the Bell 429 and the Airbus Helicopters H145M in what has been defined the largest Austrian acquisition since the purchase of the Eurofighter Typhoon. Austria should be also the first export customer of the AW169M.

According to Austrian websites, the Federal Ministry of Defence was looking for a partner which would be willing to fully cooperate with the Austrian Armed Forces in all areas of the operation of military helicopters in order to be able to work cost-effectively over the entire life cycle. The Bell 429 was reportedly ruled out because it is not in service in the US military and the H145 because the acquisition plan made by Germany did not match the timeframe required by Austria to replace the Alouette III. Moreover, Austria already operated the AB-204 and AB-206 helicopters and still operates the AB-212 built in Italy.

The Italian Army Receives First AW169 Light Utility Helicopter in Training Configuration

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The first AW169 LUH (designated UH-169B by the Italian MOD) delivered to the Italian Army on Jul. 10, 2020. (Image credit: crop from the original photo released by Leonardo)

Leonardo Helicopter Division delivered on July 10, 2020 the first of two AW169 Light Utility Helicopters in training configuration to the Italian Army during a ceremony at the 2nd Rtg. Aviazione dell’Esercito “Sirio” (2nd Rgt. Army Aviation “Sirius”, as the Army Aviation regiments are named after constellations), based in Lamezia Terme, southern Italy.

The new helicopters, designated UH-169B by the Army, are formally configured as “Addestratore Basico Commerciale” (Basic Commercial Trainer) and will be used to start the training of the crews that will fly the final configuration of the helicopter, called “Multiruolo Avanzato” (Advanced Multirole).

The UH-169B is based on the AW169M, the military variant of the AW169 light intermediate twin-engine helicopter, designed to carry out a wide range of tasks, including utility, surveillance, special operations, maritime patrol, land reconnaissance, training, rescue and firefighting.

The first AW169 LUH – UH-169B delivered to the Italian Army. (Photo: Leonardo)

According to the Italian Ministry of Defence, the Light Utility Helicopter will replace the ageing Combat Support Helicopters (Elicotteri da Supporto al Combattimento, ESC) currently in service, like the A-109, AB-205, AB-206, AB-212 and AB-412, while filling the gaps due to the obsolescence of the current fleet and optimizing logistics with a single-platform fleet, instead of the current one based on five different helicopters that were put in service between the 1970s and the 1990s.

Gian Piero Cutillo, Managing Director of Leonardo Helicopters, said during the delivery ceremony: “It gives us great pleasure to celebrate with the Italian Army the delivery of its first AW169 in basic training configuration as an essential enabler ahead of the implementation of the new, broader LUH programme. The LUH will definitely represent the start of a new era in terms of capabilities, technical support, mission flexibility and interoperability in the light weight segment. The new programme takes advantage of many decades of a successful partnership and continued exchange of information, intended to fully understand the changing operational needs and how to address them through the possibilities offered by new technologies. We’re committed to supporting the Italian Army to maximise the benefits of these new helicopters.”

Artwork of the AW169M in a LUH configuration. (Photo: Leonardo)

The requirements set for the program by the MoD requested an helicopter that was already in service in other Italian armed forces and law enforcement agencies, with Command and Control (C2) systems already in service or in the acquisition phase, a service life of 10’000 flight hours or no less than 30 years and the capability to communicate and transmit images and videos to the troops on the ground, both with Italian assets and in a joint/NATO environment, following the Army’s Forza NEC (Network Enabled Capability) program.

The helicopter has also to perform in a “dual use” role for civilian Search And Rescue (SAR), MEDical EVAcuation (MEDEVAC), surveillance, firefighting and support in the event of natural calamities, as was also explained by our Editor David Cenciotti in a previous article:

“Dual use” is a term that refers technologies that can be used for military and civilian purposes.

“Dual use” has also become a sort of mantra of the Italian approach to the defense matters. Investments, developments, exercises: it looks like no military activity can be carried out just because it serves specific defense purposes, it must also support civilian operations. Actually, the Italian Armed Forces have always been “Dual”, regularly conducting peacetime operations in support of the population. Search And Rescue, Humanitarian Relief, Medical Transportation, Medical Evactuation, Firefighting, National Security: these are just a few of the many missions regularly carried out by the Italian military for the community.

However, especially in recent times, the “Dual use” purpose of the military technologies has increasingly emerged in official statements and public discussions, as if being “Dual” made choices pertaining to the defense, which are periodically at the center of political controversy, more acceptable.

The advanced multirole configuration of the AW169 LUH currently in development will feature dedicated flight and mission equipment including NVG-compatible integrated glass cockpit, advanced C4 systems (Command, Control, Communication and Computers),  rescue hoist and rappelling/fast roping equipment, Electro-Optical/Infra-Red (EO/IR) system, self-defense systems, searchlight, loudspeakers, cargo hook and both internal and external weapon stations.

The program called for 22 helicopters in both versions when it was presented last year to the Italian Parliament, with the most recent public preliminary report from ARMAEREO (Direzione degli Armamenti Aeronautici e per l’Aeronavigabilità or Aeronautical Armaments and Airworthiness Directorate) mentioning 15 helicopters in the advanced multirole configuration.

As a side note, together with the first contract for the LUH program, the Italian Parliament also approved the acquisition of 17 new HH-139A SAR helicopters for the Italian Air Force, that will join the 13 helicopters already in service.