The advanced Leonardo's exploration and escort helicopter will replace the current Italian Army Mangusta and will be offered to the international market.

AH-249A helicopter Aviationist
AH-249A, Leonardo's new exploration and escort helicopter (NEES)

Last year the Italian Aerospace Company Leonardo annunced that they are developing a new exploration and escort helicopter (NEES) to replace the Italian Army Mangusta (More details here), but no further details about the new platform were revealed.

More info about the advanced helicopter were shared during the Combat Helicopters conference in Krakow, Poland, Oct. 2017. During the event, Lt. Col. Claudio Orioles, Head of the Italian Army Aviation Logistics, unveiled concept and features of the the new AH-249A helicopter that will replace the Mangusta fleet starting from 2020.

The AH-249A will be equipped with the same engines of the AW149 and the same modernization system of the AW-129 to speed up the development process.

Compared to its predecessor, the airborne time will increase from 2 to 3 hours, the cruise speed from 115 to 140 knots (from 213 to 259 km/h) and the service ceiling from 15,000 to 20,000 feet. The weapon load will be increased from 820 kgs to not less than 1,800 kgs (twice the AH-129D). It will have a weight set between 7-8 tons: heavier than the Airbus Tiger helicopter (6 tons class) and lighter than the Bell AH-1Z Viper helicopter (8 tons class). The AW-249 will not compete with heavy destroyers such as AH-64E Apache, Mi-28 or Ka-52. The main purpose of the new helicopter is to carry out escort and reconnaissance missions and provide fire support to ground forces.

The operating temperature range of the AH-249A will vary from -40 degrees C to +50 degrees C, and it will be composed of special materials able to protect it against dust, sand, snow and corrosion during maritime environments.

The "New Mangusta" will not be a stealth aircraft, but it will be equipped with infrared signature reduction devices (especially for turbine exhaust gases) and a system of active electronic countermeasures and software systems against hacking.

In terms of data exchange, the new aircraft is expected to be able to offer broadband communications using Link16 and other standards. It is designed to adopt radio stations digitally encoded at different frequencies but also to connect to cellular networks. Thanks to these new features it will be able to transmit audio, video and data through fully encrypted communication channels. The AH-249 will also have the ability to interact with various types of unmanned aerial vehicles, both in terms of data exchange and drones management.

Pilots will have a wide range of modern solutions designed not only to enable them to perform the task effectively, but also to improve their comfort and safety. In addition to navigation systems and safety systems such as VOR-ILS, DME, TACAN, Doppler radar and radar altimeter and GPS/INS navigation, the helicopter will have a data processing and integration system. Pilots will be depicted on the main, widescreen multifunctional touch screen placed instead of the classic dashboard, HUD display and flicker displays. It will also allow them to view images from different external sensors to increase awareness of the battlefield.

During the Dubai Air Show 2017, Leonardo Mariani, the new Chief Commercial Officer of Leonardo, said that the company is ready to cooperate with other countries about the development of the AW-249 exploration and escort helicopter.

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