FUTURE HELICOPTERS

The Esercito has for some time been involved in the NH-90 programme (ETT, Helicopter da Trasporto Tattico, according to its Esercito designation), and intends to acquire a considerable number of these new European helicopters (there is an order for 60 machines). There is also a requirement for a new ESC helicopter which, together with the NH-90, will replace the old AB.205, AB.2I2 and AB.412.

The most likely replacement candidate for the ESC role is the Agusta-Bell AB.139, the successor to the successful Huey series, which will be offered to the market as an avant-garde helicopter with excellent characteristics and performance. It has become clear that the NH-90 will not be the Brigade’s only transport helicopter — while this might be desirable from a logistical and maintenance point of view, it is not equally so from an operational aspect. The NH-90 is a sophisticated, modern, and capable aircraft capable of carrying around twice the fighting personnel of an AB.205 or an AB.412, but it is also too valuable a target. A technical fault or the loss of one or two in combat could create serious problems for an airborne operation, resulting in the loss of 20-40 men and their associated equipment. An ESC is a far more manageable and flexible escort and fire support machine.

With these acquisitions, and with the standardisation of the A.129 fleet onto the CBT variant, the Brigade in the future will include some 120 helicopters of four types: A.129, A.109, NH-90, and a new BSC The 7° Rgt ‘Vega’, in its air-mobile format, will have two Gruppi Squadroni with NH-90 (around 30 helicopters) and a Gruppo Squadroni with A.129CBT (18 helicopters), while 5° Rgt ‘Rigel’ will comprise two Gruppi Squadroni with 36 A.129CBT, plus six NH-90. The ESC and the A109 will be operated by each regiment, with nine and six examples respectively assigned: as a result the Brigade will operate 54 A129, 36 NH-90, 18 ESC and 12 A.109. With the arrival of the new models, the Brigade could also be utilised in its entirety as a single wave air-mobile assault force. Again in the future, if a heavy transport helicopter is required, it will have the support of the CH-47C Chinooks operated by l° Rgt ‘Antares’, based at Viterbo.

Other aims in the near future include the consolidation of sniper activities, including firing from helicopters; consolidation of FAC (Forward Air Control) by the A.129, in co-operation with the fighter-bombers of the Air Force; developing an air-mobile NBC capacity to carry out deep FARP in secure areas; and the qualification of a second regiment as air-mobile, the 187° Reggimento Paracadutisti (Parachute Rgt), at present assigned to the Brigata Paracadutisti ‘Folgore’. The permanence of the Savoia Cavalleria’ in the ‘Friuli’ Brigade’s ranks is still uncertain: any decision will be made at General Staff level and has yet to be taken. Within the Brigade itself, the hope is that the ‘Savoia’ will be permitted to continue its valuable contribution to the unit’s operations.

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