Italy’s navy is to boost its operational fleet of Leonardo Helicopters AW101 rotorcraft by removing the airborne early warning (AEW) system equipment installed on four stored examples.

“We are going to get rid of this configuration because it has not been very successful,” a source said at Defence IQ’s International Military Helicopter conference in London on 28 February. “Basically we have had four prototypes, which are not performing.”

The rotorcraft will have their current AEW radar installation and mission equipment removed, and undergo conversion to the navy’s amphibious support configuration of the three-engined type.

AW101 amphibious support

Source: Italian navy

Stored rotorcraft will be converted to the navy’s amphibious support standard (pictured)

Following this activity, the service will have its full complement of 22 AW101s in use: 12 amphibious support examples and 10 anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare assets.

The conversion work will be performed during a forthcoming mid-life upgrade activity on the fleet, which will enable the type to remain in operational use until 2045.

Rome’s permanent removal of its AEW-adapted AW101s – fielded from 2012 – will leave its lone aircraft carrier, Cavour, without such an embarked capability. Instead, the navy hopes that future investment in unmanned air vehicle (UAV) technologies will enable it to re-establish the role.

The service expects in the coming weeks to begin operating the Insitu Scan Eagle UAV from its frigates. Leonardo Helicopters’ AWHero vertical take-off and landing UAV also will be introduced during 2025, with the lightweight type to carry a maritime search radar.

The Italian navy’s current rotorcraft inventory also includes 56 NH Industries NH90s: 46 in the NFH-model naval variant and 10 TTH-standard maritime transports. It also flies more than 20 aged Agusta-Bell AB212s, which are slated for retirement by 2032, and has started introducing the AW139 in a light support role.

Meanwhile, the same source indicates that the navy hopes to later this year conduct a first embarked trial with Leonardo Helicopters’ AW609 civil tiltrotor aboard Cavour. This will support its exploration of a future intra-theatre lift requirement.