The AW169 LUH helicopter, based on the AW169M light intermediate twin-engine helicopter, features a new skid landing gear which replaces the standard retractable gear.
The first Leonardo AW169 LUH (Light Utility Helicopter) was recently photographed at the beginning of its flight testing. The photo you can see in this article, taken by photographer Oscar Bernardi, shows the first helicopter in the new configuration which has been assigned s/n 72001 and experimental serial CSX 82014.
The AW169 LUH is based on the AW169M, the military variant of the AW169 light intermediate twin-engine helicopter, designed to carry out a wide range of tasks, including utility, surveillance, special operations, maritime patrol, land reconnaissance, training, rescue and firefighting. The main differences that we can spot in the photos, compared to the baseline AW169, are the skid landing gear, which replaces the standard retractable landing gear, and an expanded nose for additional equipment.
The LUH program was initiated by the Italian Ministry of Defence to replace the ageing Combat Support Helicopters (Elicotteri da Supporto al Combattimento, ESC) currently in service with the Italian Army, like the A-109, AB-205, AB-206, AB-212 and AB-412, while filling the gaps due to the obsolescence of the current fleet and optimizing logistics with a single-platform fleet, instead of the current one based on five different helicopters that were put in service between the 1970s and the 1990s.
This first AW169 LUH, however, seems scheduled to be delivered to the Guardia di Finanza (Custom Police) next year, together with a second helicopter. The Army could be receiving the first new helicopter in 2022, while the Carabinieri (Military Police) will get theirs a year later. Actually, the Army already received a training version of the LUH, which has been designated UH-169B.
The requirements set for the program by the MoD requested an helicopter that was already in service in other Italian armed forces and law enforcement agencies, with Command and Control (C2) systems already in service or in the acquisition phase, a service life of 10,000 flight hours or no less than 30 years and the capability to communicate and transmit images and videos to the troops on the ground, both with Italian assets and in a joint/NATO environment, following the Army’s Forza NEC (Network Enabled Capability) program. The helicopter has also to perform in a “dual use” role for civilian Search And Rescue (SAR), MEDical EVAcuation (MEDEVAC), surveillance, firefighting and support in the event of natural calamities.
The advanced multirole configuration of the AW169 LUH currently in development will be externally similar to the one photographed here for the Guardia di Finanza and will feature dedicated flight and mission equipment including NVG-compatible integrated glass cockpit, advanced C4 systems (Command, Control, Communication and Computers), rescue hoist and rappelling/fast roping equipment, Electro-Optical/Infra-Red (EO/IR) system, self-defense systems, searchlight, loudspeakers, cargo hook and both internal and external weapon stations.
The Army program called for 22 helicopters in both the training and advanced multirole LUH configuration versions when it was presented last year to the Italian Parliament, with the most recent public preliminary report from ARMAEREO (Direzione degli Armamenti Aeronautici e per l’Aeronavigabilità or Aeronautical Armaments and Airworthiness Directorate) mentioning 15 helicopters in the advanced multirole configuration. According to some sources, the five helicopters not mentioned in the ARMAEREO report for the Army will go to the Carabinieri.
As for the Guardia di Finanza program, this first helicopter is likely to be the first of 22 AW169s ordered in 2018 to supplement the 14 helicopters already on order and being delivered in the maritime patrol, reconnaissance and law enforcement roles. Among the specialized equipment over the base LUH configuration, this helicopter will get Leonardo’s Gabbiano surveillance radar (which will likely go in the elongated nose) and LEOSS multi-sensor Electro-Optical (EO) turret.
Last month Austria showed interest in the AW169 LUH, with a letter of intent signed on Nov. 16 to collaborate in the LUH program. Austria is willing to acquire 18 AW169M LUHs to replace its obsolete fleet of Aerospatiale Alouette IIIs, which are scheduled to be phased out by 2023, with deliveries of the new helicopter possibly beginning in 2022. The AW169 LUH won over the Bell 429 and the Airbus Helicopters H145M in what has been defined the largest Austrian acquisition since the purchase of the Eurofighter Typhoon. Austria should be also the first export customer of the AW169M.
According to Austrian websites, the Federal Ministry of Defence was looking for a partner which would be willing to fully cooperate with the Austrian Armed Forces in all areas of the operation of military helicopters in order to be able to work cost-effectively over the entire life cycle. The Bell 429 was reportedly ruled out because it is not in service in the US military and the H145 because the acquisition plan made by Germany did not match the timeframe required by Austria to replace the Alouette III. Moreover, Austria already operated the AB-204 and AB-206 helicopters and still operates the AB-212 built in Italy.