Leonardo Lands $532 Million in Trainer, Helo Contracts

The Italian Ministry of Defense signed contracts with Leonardo for the acquisition of its new M-345 jet trainer and a new assault helicopter set to replace the  A129 Mangusta.

The two contracts were together worth over 500 million euros, or US $532 million, the Italian state controlled firm said in a statement released late Friday.

The M-345 contract covers five aircraft, making it the initial batch in an eventual expected order of 45 aircraft, Leonardo said, which will replace 137 MB-339 aircraft that entered service in 1982. First deliveries will be in 2019.

The company announced Dec.30 that the prototype of the jet made its first, 30-minute flight in Italy.

The aircraft’s development has been funded by the Italian government and is set to be acquired by the Italian Air Force to prepare trainee pilots to move up to the firm’s advanced M-346 trainer, which is now being offered to the US in the TX program.

The Williams FJ44-4M-34 engine on the aircraft offers 3,400 pounds of thrust, and has been touted by Leonardo officials as contributing to the aircraft’s low life cycle cost, similar to or lower than a turbo prop.

The firm, which believes it can sell 200 M-345s around the world, will be using life cycle stats to try to woo turbo prop trainer customers.

The second contract signed is for a new assault helicopter being developed to replace Italy’s long serving A129 Mangusta helicopter, built by Leonardo.

Dubbed the “new exploration and escort helicopter” (NEES) the contract covers the study, development, industrialization, production and testing of a prototype and three initial production aircraft, the firm said.

In October, the military submitted plans to parliament to spend 487 million euros on a prototype, three pre-series aircraft and one initial operating capability level aircraft, as well as the later upgrade of the three pre-series versions to IOC level, all by 2025.

In its statement, Leonardo said: “Through this new program, based on a total requirement for 48 units, the Italian Army will be able to replace the current fleet of AW129 which are expected to be retired from service by 2025 following over 35 years in operations,” the firm said.

Designed to fly three hour missions, the new aircraft will offer a 20 mm cannon, 70 mm rockets and Spike air to ground missiles, with a 1,400 kg payload that may rise to 1,600 kg according to the documents sent to parliament.

The new Mangusta would also feature satellite communications and Link 16.

The Army currently has 48 Mangustas flying, of which 32 have been upgraded from the original spec, while 16 are used for training. The helicopter was flown in Afghanistan and a spin-off, the T-129, was developed for service with Turkey.

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