Leonardo and the Rise of the Fenice (Phoenix) 07/06/2024 | Marco Giulio Barone

Leonardo has been present at ILA 2024 in Berlin with a full array of its spearhead products, including the M-346 advanced jet trainer, Miysis DIRCM (Directed Infrared Countermeasure) system, and Britecloud active self-contained DRFM (Digital RF Memory) countermeasure. Furthermore, Leonardo underlines its commitment to the Eurofighter Typhoon programme, actively participating in all the export campaigns. At the booth, a reduced scale mock-up of the new AW-249 Fenice (Phoenix) combat helicopter is also visible, and Leonardo has put it at the forefront of its presence in Berlin this year. Indeed, the AW-249 Fenice is today a relatively mature helicopter, with two flying prototypes and two more coming out of the final assembly. Deliveries will begin in 2027. Leonardo proudly communicates that the AW-249 is the only new combat helicopter being built in the West. The war in Ukraine has shown the strengths and weaknesses of military helicopters in high-intensity and large-scale conflicts. This comes at a time when most major NATO countries need to modernise their rotary-wing fleets, which have experienced incremental and limited technological advances in recent decades. The AW-249 is part of an ‘agile' development approach and an example of unprecedented synergy between Leonardo and the Italian Army. Therefore, the helicopter can be updated already during the development phase, and this makes it consistent with the speed of technological evolution and changing scenarios. Continuous communications between the Italian Army and Leonardo make it possible to have a perfect match between industry-driven solutions and emerging (and ever changing) operational requirements. For instance, most Army pilots and Leonardo’s test pilots have extensive experience with AW-129 Mangusta attack helicopters, thus creating a small community of users that are aware of battlefield reality and technology potential at the same time. This allowed for the optimal positioning and size of critical systems such as the control panels (EDCU, Enhanced Display Control Unit) and Large Area Display (LAD) in the helicopter's cockpit, and subsequently the Mission Task Simulator (MTS) to optimise the man-machine interface and thus minimise the crew's workload (thanks to a monitoring system of their stress during the simulation of the various missions in different operational contexts). As far as armament configurations are concerned, test aircraft are being flown with payloads simulating 19-tube 70mm rocket launchers, quadruple Rafael Spike (LR/LR2/ER/ER2) anti-tank missile launchers, and twin air-to-air launchers for Raytheon Stinger (ATAS) missiles. AW-249s will also have a TM-197B turret with a three-barrel 20mm gatling gun. Insights available to date confirm that there has been some interest from Germany - not interested in upgrading the Tiger/Tigre but that could also procure Boeing’s Apache/Guardian -, Romania, Hungary and Brazil. Nonetheless, Leonardo believes that the AW-249 would be ideal to become a point of reference for NATO forces in Europe.

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