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Additional nations could join with Italy for new attack helicopter

Leonardo Helicopters is looking for additional partners on its new attack rotorcraft programme, which has now been designated the AW249.

In January 2017 Italy awarded the company a €487 million ($515 million) contract to develop a successor to its army's AW129 Mangusta fleet.

But speaking at a Dubai air show event, Leonardo's group chief commercial officer Lorenzo Mariani said the helicopter is "not only for Italy".

"It is a basis for collaboration – we believe that other nations can join this project," says Mariani, confirming the AW249 designation.

"In agreement with our customer [Italy] we have adopted quite a bullish attitude: we have the contract, we have the design, we have the idea and we have started the development – we are open for other nations to join that."

Mariani's comments raise the possibility that Leonardo could once again partner with state-owned Turkish Aerospace Industries, which has already signalled an intention to develop a successor to the T129 ATAK, a helicopter derived from the Mangusta.

More details on the AW249's proposed specification have also emerged.

A presentation given by the Italian army at a recent conference in Kracow, Poland, indicates that the helicopter will have a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 7-8t, significantly higher than the 5t AW129.

The increase in MTOW is partly driven by a more than doubling of the weapons load, which grows from 800kg (1,760lb) to almost 2,000kg.

Cruise speed, ceiling and endurance figures on the AW249 would all increase compared with those of the Mangusta.

In addition, Leonardo proposes examining means of lowering the new helicopter's radar and heat signatures to give it more stealthy characteristics.

Under the manufacturer's previously disclosed proposals it will use dynamic system components from the current AW149 troop transport helicopter.

No decision has so far been made on the AW249's engines, but it is likely to be a two-way fight between the GE Aviation T700 and the Safran Helicopter Engines Aneto, which was recently selected to power the K-model variant of the commercial AW189.

The development contract runs until 2025 and will see Leonardo produce a total of five aircraft, the final one of which will be a serial example.

Italy projects an eventual requirement for 48 helicopters, with the Mangusta to be retired from 2025.

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