LIMA 2023 – Malaysia acquires two Leonardo ATR 72 MPA aircraft

Paolo Valpolini

At LIMA 2023, the maritime and air exhibition that took place in Langkawi 23 to 27 May, the Malaysian Ministry of Defence announced the acquisition of two Leonardo ATR 72 MPA aircraft, which selection was announced in October 2022

“Royal Malaysian Air Force is also in progress of having two (2) units of Phase 1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) and associated equipments from Leonardo S.p.A.” This was the statement made at collective signature ceremony concerning a number of contracts, letters of intent and memorandum of understanding that took place at LIMA 2023 on day three of the exhibition.

The important event was witnessed by the Minister of Defence of Malaysia, YB Dato’ Seri Utama Mohamad bin Haji Hassan.

A few hours later Leonardo organised a press conference providing the latest information on its MPA. The non disclosure agreement that is part of the Malaysian contract did not allowed the company to provide any detail on the actual configuration, however it is clear that this will be based closely on the baseline version, which allows minimising risks and costs.

It is derived from the latest variant of the twin-turboprop regional transport aircraft, the ATR 72-600. It has a 23,000 kg maximum take-off mass and 10 hours endurance at 5,000 ft, which allows persistency over the area of interest. The comfort provided by the aircraft also allows rotating fresh personnel on the workstations, a maximum of four being installable in the aircraft.

One of the key issues highlighted by Leonardo was the uniqueness of having a whole system provided by single company; the Italian main defence player has a 50% stake in ATR company and is the only one allowed to provide military customised versions of the regional liner, and can provide all subsystems needed to transform it into an MPA, including sensors, command and control systems and eventually weapons, should a customer look at an MPA/ASW version with antisubmarine warfare capabilities. The company produces in house torpedoes, while missiles would be available through MBDA, in which Leonardo has a 25% stake. The one-stop-shop concept ensures smooth integration of all elements, according to the company. Moreover the fact that well over 1,000 ATR 72s are flying in the world ensures ease of maintenance of the airframe, Leonardo ensuring full after-sales support for the mission package.

When providing specialised versions, Leonardo acquires the green aircraft from ATR and transforms it in Italy. It is to note that the aircraft fuselage is produced by Leonardo in its facilities at Pomigliano d’Arco (Naples), therefore as most modifications are related to this part of the aircraft it has full knowledge ad authority to carry them out.

The core of the mission system is the ATOS (Airborne Tactical Observation System), a scalable and modular open architecture airborne mission management system that integrates all sensors. The data acquired are fused into a common tactical picture that reduces operators’ workload. The main sensor employed is usually a radar taken from the Seaspray family, the latest version of it being the Seaspray 7500 (V2) X-band Radar fitted with an AESA antenna, which ensures a 320 NM range. It supports all missions assigned to an MPA aircraft such as the ATR 72 acquired by the Malaysian Air Force, ensuring  maritime surveillance also against small targets, transponder detection in search and rescue missions, as well as target imaging and classification. It is also capable of ground mapping in Spot SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) and Strip SAR, as well as moving targets detection, oil spill detection being also among its capabilities, a useful tool in case of ecological accidents.

The radar is complemented by an electro-optical suite capable to provide high resolution pictures day and night, and by an electronic support measure suite. All information are shared through the communications system, SATCOM being also an option should the customer require it.

In the ASW role the ATOS can handle multi-static detection obtained through sonobuoys that increase accuracy and detection range, wig strong points allowing carrying torpedoes and missiles in the 300 kg category.

The Malaysian contract includes logistic support and training services. Leonardo usually follows a train-the-trainer policy, both for aircrews and maintainers; company representatives underlined that an aircraft such as the ATR 72 MPA allows not only flight training but also consistent tactical training, most of it to e done through simulation.

Which will be the aircraft designation in Malaysian Air Force service is not yet known, the same applying to delivery dates. The mention of “Phase 1” in the Malaysian MoD statement might well indicate that the acquisition of further MPA aircraft might be made in the coming years.

Photo courtesy Leonardo