The Austrian Ministry of Defense has announced that they are planning on ordering 18 Leonardo AW169M helicopters. The cost of the procurement will be 300 million Euros and first delivery is expected mid-2022. A minimum service life of 30 years is expected.
The new helicopters will replace the Alouette III light liaison and transport helicopters currently in use. These have been in service since 1967 and will be retired at the end of 2023 due to age issues.
Defense Minister Klaudia Tanner announced the decision on Monday, saying that:
“With this helicopter we are buying a highly efficient and modern machine that not only serves the safety of our soldiers, but also the safety of the entire population. We are investing in the safety of Austria.”
The AW169M is certainly a more capable aircraft than it’s predecessor. The helicopter is much more powerful and therefore better suited for use in the mountains. Its modern avionics also make it possible to fly at night and in poor weather conditions.
Capable of carrying ten passengers, the Austrians intend to use the AW169Ms for a wide range of missions, not just transporting personnel and materials but also for extinguishing forest fires, aerial reconnaissance and mountain rescue.
Of the purchase, 12 will be based in Aigen/Ennstal primarily as emergency vehicles whilst the other six will be stationed as trainers in Langenlebarn.
The Austrian MoD state that they chose the Leonardo (formerly Augusta-Westland) design over the comparable Bell 429 and Airbus H-145 because that company offered better terms in cooperation in the areas of training, logistics and aircraft operation.
The Austrians also state that though the aircraft will not be armed they will require the new helicopters to be capable of mounting weapon stations that are able to be fitted within hours, should that be necessary. These could include the ability to use advanced missile systems, though the exact specification is still being discussed with the manufacturer.