Leonardo Helicopters is in discussions with the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force for a follow-on order of a dozen AgustaWestland AW101 rotorcraft.
Tokyo already operates seven of an eventual 11-strong fleet of the heavy helicopters configured for minesweeping missions, designated as the MCH-101, plus two of an eventual three CH-101 utility transports.
The 15.6t rotorcraft, powered by three Turbomeca RTM322 engines, are locally assembled by Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Leonardo’s long-term Japanese partner.
Speaking at a 17 June media briefing, Giovanni Soccodato, Leonardo’s executive vice-president for strategies, markets and business development, said the company was “close to finalising” a new contract with Tokyo.
And Stefano Bortoli, sales and marketing senior vice-president for the helicopter division, adds: “We are in discussions for an incremental batch of over a dozen new aircraft.”
Aside from the remaining Japan-built helicopters, the company is presently assembling AW101s for Italy and Norway at its Yeovil, UK production facility.
The two European nations hold outstanding orders for eight and 14 rotorcraft, respectively.
Bortoli says there are a number of other “potential operators on the radar screen” that would help “give continuity” to the production line.
A similar, more urgent sales effort is also taking place for the other military helicopter produced at Yeovil, the AW159.
Known as the Wildcat in UK service, deliveries of a total of 60 examples to the Army Air Corps and Royal Navy are due to complete in late 2016, leaving an outstanding backlog of just six rotorcraft: four for South Korea’s navy and two for the Philippines.
Bortoli plays down concerns of a looming production gap, pointing to a number of ongoing sales discussions, both in Asia and Europe. Germany, for example, is in the early stages of launching a replacement effort for its fleet of 22 Westland Lynx 88s, of which six are in service.
“We are talking about hard opportunities, not simply ideas,” Bortoli says.