Italy has begun the process of replacing its army’s fleet of AW129 attack helicopters, signing a multi-year, €487 million ($515 million) contract with Leonardo, which will see the nation’s aerospace champion develop a successor aircraft.

However, defence ministry documents indicate that the new design will use a number of parts from in-production helicopters, including weapons and dynamic components.

The AW129s have been in service since 1990, and Rome believes the age and condition of its Mangusta fleet means the aircraft are no longer suited to the increasing demands placed on them, according to contract documents.

Its replacement – which it calls the new exploration and escort helicopter – will offer more performance than the AW129 in areas such as survivability, offensive capability, digital communications and autonomy.

AW129 - AgustaWestland


However, the defence ministry also stipulates the use of already mature technologies, including the TM197B 20mm chin gun, Rafael Spike missile and Toplite targeting system from the AW129, as well as the transmission and main and tail rotors from the AW149 troop transport.

Running until 2025, the development contract covers the design, manufacture and qualification of five aircraft: one prototype, three pre-serial examples, and a first production helicopter in the initial operational capability (IOC) configuration.In addition, it calls for the subsequent raising of the three pre-serial rotorcraft to the IOC standard.

Rome sees an eventual requirement for 48 helicopters, replacing the 59 AW129s currently in service, which it plans to retire from 2025.

No details on the timeframe for the arrival of the initial aircraft have been disclosed, however.