New Exploration and Escort Helicopter (NEES)
On 11 October 2016 the defense commission of the lower house of the Italian parliament began debating plans by the Italian military to buy the Centauro II tank and an updated version of its A-129 Mangusta helicopter. Built by Italy’s AgustaWestland, now known by the name Leonardo-Finmeccanica, the Mangusta first entered service during the 1990s. Designed to fly three-hour missions, the new aircraft will offer a 20mm cannon, 70mm rockets and Spike air-to-ground missiles, with a 1,400 kg payload that may rise to 1,600 kg.
On 13 January 2017 Leonardo signed, with the Italian National Armaments Directorate of the Italian Defence Ministry, two contracts for an initial batch of five Aermacchi M-345 trainer aircraft and for the first phase of development and delivery program of the new exploration and escort helicopter (NEES) for the Italian Army. The combined value of the contracts is in excess of 500 million euro. Mauro Moretti, Chief Executive Officer and General Manager of Leonardo, said: “The signing of these two contracts is the result of constructive discussions between the Italian Government and industry, which helped identify the requirements and the best technological answers. Thanks to this joint understanding, we’ll be able to deliver advanced solutions to our national customer by optimizing available financial resources and developing new technologies, skills and industrial processes in our country.”
The multiyear contract for the new exploration and escort helicopter (NEES) of the Italian Army envisages the study, development, industrialization, production and testing of a prototype and three initial production aircraft. Through this new programme, 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.
It is envisaged that the Italian Army will buy 48 NEES to replace its A129s. The NEES program will benefit from the long operational expertise gained by the Italian Army thanks to the AW129 and from the know-how of Leonardo in this specific helicopter sector. It will allow the service to introduce an even more technologically advanced product, with greater performance and lower operating costs, to meet arising needs in evolving scenarios for the next 30 years.
No further details on the new helicopter or its development program were disclosed by the company in its announcement.
The number and type of helicopter upgrades available are limited only by the number of subsystems, the operational requirements, and the available funding. Significant improvements to fielded helicopters are realized through the installation of improved gas turbine engines with greatly increased power/weight ratios, reduced specific fuel consumption, and digital engine controls. Modern engines are operating at ever-increasing pressure ratios possible through the increased fidelity of computer modeling of compressor and turbine aerodynamics. Modern directionally solidified and single crystal turbine blades considerably enhance the engine temperature capability.
Electronic controls have simplified the engine's fuel control system since numerous pneumatic and fuel lines required for engine operation are no longer required. Operators also benefit from cooler and automatically controlled starts. Pilot's like automatic limiting, precise rotor control, and improved handling qualities.
Helicopters, as a general rule, in crease in maximum gross takeoff weight (MGTOW) over their operational lives. These increases are a direct result of increasing demands on operational capability. Accordingly, increasing takeoff weights demand more installed power to retain or improve operational performances. Engine upgrades, when teamed with additional rotor and dynamic changes, offer dramatic improvements in overall mission capability.
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