Austria to Purchase 18 Leonardo AW169M Light Helicopters

Italy and Austria have signed a government-to-government (G2G) agreement for the sale and procurement of 18 Leonardo AW169M light multirole helicopters for the Austrian Armed Forces.

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On the 02 December the defence ministers of Italy and Austria Lorenzo Guerini and Klaudia Tanner, signed the implementation phase of the agreement at the Italian Ministry of Defence (MoD). It paves the way for a formal contractual agreement by 20 December and an acquisition signature in mid-January 2022. The Italian MoD has identified the Directorate of Aeronautical Armaments and Airworthiness (DAAA) as the institutional body in charge of the technical and contractual management of this agreement.

This same agency on the 26th of November released the “Preliminary Report and the Determination to Contract” for the supply of Leonardo AW169 helicopters to Austria through a G2G agreement. Previously, the Austrian and Italian MoD had signed a “Technical Arrangement on Co-operation in the Field of Military Helicopter Aviation”, defining the following macro areas of cooperation: engineering activities, training and simulation, service and logistics activities and operations. It was later followed by a “Letter of Intent on cooperation in the field of Military Helicopter Aviation”, under the consideration that only the Italian MoD was able to offer an all-inclusive cooperation programme in the Light Utility Helicopter sector in line with the requirements expressed by the Austrians: the AW169 Light Utility Helicopter that the Italians were developing and planned on acquiring. On the 24th of June, the parties signed a “Implementing Arrangement”, defining the terms of the military cooperation programme and agreed on the related contractual procedures.

According to the Italian National Armaments Directorate (ARMAERO), the contract will cover six helicopters in the AW169B configuration, as well as up to 12 potentially armed AW169MA helicopters. Spares, training, support, and other items will be included in the sale. The agreement also includes an option for a further six AW169Bs and a further 12 AW169MAs; however, it was not said for how long this option will remain valid.

A consequent contract will be stipulated between the DAAA and Leonardo Helicopters, on the basis of the above-mentioned Italy-Austria agreements, to proceed with the procurement of AW169 helicopters for Austria, in training and multi-role versions, complete with the materials and services indicated in the Austrian requirement.

The AgustaWestland AW169 is a twin-engine, 10-seat, 4.8t helicopter developed and manufactured by the helicopter division of Leonardo (formerly AgustaWestland). It was introduced in 2015 and shares many commonalities with its larger cousin, the AW139 as well as the AW189. The helicopter can be used for a variety of roles, such as executive and private transport, medical and rescue services, as well as energy and security services. With more than 70 airframes built, it sees use by many governmental and civilian agencies all over the world, such as the Slovenian Police Force or British air ambulances. In 2013 it was under consideration as a scout helicopter for the US Army but was cancelled. Its military versions designated AW169M and AW169MA serves the Italian Guardia di Finanza, a militarized police force of the Ministry of Economy and Finance which operates 22 vehicles since 2018, one of which has crashed due to pilot error (and without casualties). In 2020 the Italian army also ordered 15 vehicles, while the Air Force of Qatar currently operates one and is expecting at least three more.

The military version of the helicopter features optional ballistic protection for cockpit and cabin, self-sealing tanks, a defensive aids suite to ensure high levels of survivability and crashworthiness and can be customised with a large range of equipment, sensor and weapon systems to provide mission flexibility to military operators. Internal weapons include a 12.7 mm machine gun or two pintle-mounted 7.62 mm machine guns, while externally it can carry 7.62mm/12.7 mm machine guns and/or guided and unguided rockets and/or air to ground missiles.

In Austrian service, the aircraft is slated to replace the Aérospatiale Alouette III, which has been in Austrian service since 1967. Austria operates 26 of these which are to be replaced by 2023. The programme has been earmarked with between 300 million euros ($340 million) and 400 million euros.

By Kevin Klemann 

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