DEFEA 2023 – Leonardo proposes its AW139M for the Greek Air Force SAR requirement

Paolo Valpolini

With a country that includes hundreds of islands, Greece needs to deploy an efficient Search And Rescue system. The Air Force issued a requirement for a SAR helicopter to which Leonardo is answering with its AW139M, this model being widely used along Mediterranean coasts

In the past the Greek Armed Forces helicopter fleet grew quite quickly but in a rather disorderly way. Today Greece is looking at renewing its fleet, and is taking the opportunity also to rationalise it.

Among the various programmes, the Greek Air Force has the need to rejuvenate its Search And Rescue (SAR) fleet currently based on ageing Super Pumas. According to media reports an upgrade programme for those helicopters was studied, but proved to be not cost-effective.

Leonardo of Italy is proposing its AW139M, the militarised version of its AW139 of which over 1,100 were sold worldwide in 90 countries, totalling over 3.7 million flight hours. Over 500 such helicopters, more than 220 in the Mediterranean area, are used for rescue and MEDEVAC duties in 44 countries, and totalled over 1 million flight hours. According to Leonardo sources the AW139M has an edge over its competitors in terms of technical characteristics, operational capabilities, geopolitical issues also being part of the game, considering how close Italy and Greece are.

Moreover this type of helicopter is already being flown in the SAR role by governmental or para-governmental entities many of which in the southern Mediterranean area. Cyprus, Egypt, Spain, Croatia and Malta operate the Leonardo chopper, not to mention Italy where it is flown both by the Air Force and the Coast Guard.

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A helicopter of the latter service was exhibited at DEFEA 2023, the defence exhibition that takes place at the Athens Metropolitan Expo centre 9-11 May 2023. This Coast Guard AW139 took part in the “Iniochos 2023” that ended the week before DEFEA inauguration, and following the exhibition would head to Cyprus for another multinational exercise. With many nations operating this Leonardo helicopter sin the south-Mediterranean area, full interoperability might well be a key choice parameter.

With a maximum gross weight very close to 6,500 kg, the AW139M is powered by two Pratt & Whitney PT6C-67C turbines and can carry a one- or two-man crew and up to 15 passengers in light order. It has a maximum cruise speed of 368 km/h at 5,000 ft and can hover in-ground-effect up to 4,672 metres altitude and 2,476 metres out-ground-effect. Its maximum range at 5,000 ft cruise altitude is 1,187 km, while maximum endurance at the same altitude is 5 hours 38 minutes with auxiliary fuel tank and no reserve.

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Recently Italy opened to Government-to-Government agreements for defence contracts, a first having been a helicopter deal with Austria, Vienna having ordered 18 AW169M light utility helicopters, followed by the signature of the option for further four aircraft. This scheme might well be adopted also for Greece.

Leonardo is also open to a transfer of technology scheme, which can either involve Greek military industrial capabilities or private companies, at customer’s will. The company also proposes an Integrated Logistic System tailored to the users’ needs.

EDR On-Line understood that while the main mission for those helicopter would be civilian SAR, the aircraft being deployed on the many islands as well as on mainland to ensure the widest possible coverage, the Air Force also needs a Combat-SAR capability, therefore a C-SAR kit including some protection and firepower. This will probably be developed together with the customer.

The fate of many defence acquisition programmes depends on the outcome of Greek political elections scheduled shortly after the closure of DEFEA. If no major changes will occur a selection foe the SAR helicopter is expected in 2024.

Photos by P. Valpolini – Graphic courtesy Leonardo