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Leonardo’s AW249 to enhance Italian Army capabilities and target export market

20th June 2024 - 10:43 GMT | by Giovanni Rasio in Paris


Leonardo’s new AW249 attack helicopter on display at Eurosatory 2024. (Photo: Giovanni Rasio)

Leonardo’s new AW249 attack helicopter has made its international debut at Eurosatory 2024, with the Italian defence manufacturer noting it would provide unprecedented capabilities to the Italian Army.

Eurosatory 2024 has marked the international debut of the AW249 next-generation exploration and escort helicopter (designated as AH-249A NEES—Nuovo Elicottero da Esplorazione e Scorta by the Italian Army).

Compared to its predecessor, the A129 Mangusta – whose development dates back to the late 1970s – the AW249 has been designed around a whole new set of requirements and to operate in a fully-fledged multi-domain context.

During the unveiling ceremony, Italian Army officials reiterated that the new helicopter was not an evolution of the Mangusta but a completely new platform that would allow the service to acquire new capabilities and pave the way to the adoption of new technologies.

Leonardo launches tender for AW249 helicopter transceivers

Leonardo AW249 prototype performs tests in Spain

The guidelines set out by the Italian Army for the development of the platform focused on a combat helicopter capable of operating in the modern warfare scenario of the post-2030s with significant growth potential.

In terms of the programme’s requirements, particular emphasis has been placed on multi-domain integration, capability to achieve a low-altitude high-speed, endurance, survivability and crewed-uncrewed teaming (C-UCT).

The development of the platform has been conducted by keeping an eye on the export market, as the AW249 is the only new Western clean-sheet combat helicopter design.

Lorenzo Mariani, co-general manager of Leonardo, said: “We’re confident the AW249’s characteristics and possibilities represent a highly competitive value proposition also for the international market.”

The latest attack helicopter produced in Europe was the Tiger, which entered service in the early 2000s. The US currently offers the latest iteration of the Apache, the AH-64E. With a declared payload MTOW of 8,300kg and a range of 430NM, the AW249 places itself right between the Apache (upper end) and the Tiger.

The helicopter conducted its inaugural flight in August 2022. As reported by Shephard in August 2023, the first prototype of the platform was deployed in Spain to undertake hot-weather testing at Palma del Rio, near Cordoba.

To date, four platforms have been built (one prototype and three pre-production phase aircraft), and two of them have already performed flying tests. The other two helicopters will start flying by the end of the year.

With the Mangusta set to be retired from 2025, deliveries to the Italian Army are slated to commence in 2027.

According to Shephard Defence Insight, Rome awarded Leonardo a €487 million (US$522 million) contract for the AW249 development project in 2017. This section of the NEES programme, Phase I, covered the initial study, development, industrialisation, production and testing of a prototype and three initial production aircraft. Phase II of the programme could see Italy acquire up to 48 helicopters to meet its total requirement.

Shephard's Eurosatory 2024 coverage is sponsored by:

BAE Systems


T129 Atak


Giovanni Rasio


Giovanni Rasio

Giovanni Rasio is a Senior Naval Analyst at Shephard’s Defence Insight business intelligence service. Before …

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