The two companies will explore collaboration opportunities in design, manufacturing, assembly, marketing, and aftersales support of the AW249. The AW249 is the only new attack helicopter currently in development and will incorporate the latest technologies from its market segment.
Proposed specificationsAccording to a 2017 Italian Army presentation in Kraków, the AW249 will have a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) between 7,000 to 8,000 kilograms (kg) and a useful load capacity of more than 1,800 kg. Those numbers far exceed the 5,000-kg MTOW of its predecessor, the AH-129D Mangusta (Mongoose) attack helicopter due primarily to a doubled ordnance load.
The AW249 shared design similarities with its predecessor, the Mangusta, but it will incorporate the latest technology from its segment, including autonomy and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) management capabilities. (Image source: Italian Army)
While the AW249 will use the transmission components and main and tail rotors from Leonardo’s AW149 medium-lift helicopter, it will receive more capable engines, from either the General Electric (GE) T700/CT7 or Safran Aneto engine families. The GE CT7-2E1 has powered the commercial AW189 medium-lift helicopter since 2011, and the Safran Aneto-1K has recently been selected for the AW189K variant currently working toward EASA certification, expected in late 2018. Leonardo is aiming for a AW249 cruise speed of 259 kilometers per hour (km/h) – roughly 30 km/h faster than the Mangusta.
Regardless of engine option, the AW249 will have an endurance of three hours in all operational environments; i.e., hot, cold, high-altitude, and maritime. The AW249’s service ceiling will also be significantly higher than its predecessor, with current figures suggesting up to 6,100 meters.
The AW249 will feature state-of-the-art communication and battlefield management systems, including mission system capabilities for operating and managing networked UAVs, also known as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or drones. The two-person cockpit will also incorporate situational awareness aids and an undisclosed level of autonomy to reduce pilot workload and increase safety.
Though not a “stealth helicopter,” the AW249 airframe will incorporate a low radar cross-section design and infrared signature management systems to aid in reconnaissance operations.
DevelopmentDevelopment of the AW249 began in 2017 after Leonardo signed a multi-year, €487 million ($515 million) contract with Italy’s Ministry of Defense to replace the Italian Army’s current fleet of 35-year-old Mangustas. The current contract runs through 2025 and stipulates that Leonardo initially provide one prototype, three non-serialized test units, and one production unit of the AW249. The production unit will be delivered in – and test units will ultimately be brought to – initial operational capability (IOC) configuration. A final order of 48 AW249s is expected; however, no delivery timeframe has been released. The current Mangusta fleet is slated for retirement in 2026.
From the outset, Leonardo expressed interest in collaborating with foreign entities regarding the AW249 design. The partnership with PGZ – one of Europe’s largest defense holdings – comes after a series of agreements made between the two companies concerning the purchase of Leonardo helicopters for Polish defense in 2016, 2017, and 2018.
Although no technical details have been released concerning a Polish AW249 variant, as a consideration for the Kruk program, it will stand up against U.S. attack helicopters, including the Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian and Bell AH-1Z Viper – both currently available to Poland under the U.S. Department of Defense Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. Poland’s Ministry of National Defense is also considering modernizing the Polish Army’s existing fleet of 29 Mil Mi-24D/V Hind attack helicopters as a both a stopgap measure until new attack helicopters are procured and potentially as viable alternative to procurement.
The Polish Ministry of National Defense is currently looking at modernizing their current fleet of Mil Mi-24D/V Hind attack helicopters (a pair of them pictured at Inowroclaw, Poland) while looking for rotorcraft to for the country’s new Kruk (Raven) program.
“This agreement is a significant milestone in the on-going cooperation between Italian and Polish defense industries, involving the latter in the most important ongoing combat helicopter program. Leonardo, through PZL-Świdnik, has been working with the Polish Ministry of National Defense for years and this agreement opens new avenues of response to the Kruk program, allowing us to address the future of Polish defense alongside PGZ,” says Gian Piero Cutillo, managing director of Leonardo Helicopters.
(PZL Świdnik S.A., Poland’s largest helicopter manufacturer, is a subsidiary of Leonardo through Leonardo’s acquisition of AgustaWestland.)
PGZ – which has spent many years modernizing and maintaining Soviet-era defense assets – has expressed interest in branching out into advanced industries, including space, satellite development, and cyber technology. Regardless of whether the AW249 is selected as Poland’s new Kruk attack helicopter, companies within PGZ will be participating in a cutting-edge aerospace development program that aligns with its current goals.
“[The] agreement opens up new opportunities for PGZ companies in the aviation domain. Cooperation with Italian industry in the joint development of solutions for our armed forces in the Kruk program will allow us to expand our capabilities and involve our companies – in close cooperation with Leonardo’s PZL-Świdnik plant – in the AW249 program. This high technology program, led by Leonardo, will be also promoted in further markets,” says Jakub Skiba, president of the management board of PGZ.
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William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include 'literally anything that has to do with space,' past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology. And also sportscars.
Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at email@example.com.
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