The ATR 72MP: guardian of the seas made in Leonardo
This formidable surveillance and patrolling tool prevents and contrasts illegal activities at sea, performs search and rescue operations and is equipped with cutting-edge mission systems and sensors. It’s the multi-role ATR 72MP aircraft, recently entered into service with the Italian Air Force.
A P-72A aircraft in service with the Italian Air Force (Copyright by Lidie Berendson)
A multirole platform
The ATR 72MP, designed and built by Leonardo’s Aircraft Division, was developed from the commercial “best seller” ATR 72-600 to carry out a vast range of missions. It combines the layout, reliability, maintainability and low life-cycle costs of the typical of civilian ATRs with a cutting-edge mission system, manufactured by Leonardo, advanced sensors and a comprehensive communications suite with excellent Command, Control, Communication and Intelligence (C3I) capabilities.
The basic ATR 72MP missions portfolio includes maritime surveillance tasks (monitoring of sea lanes, fisheries protection, prevention and contrast of activities such as piracy, smuggling, drugs trafficking and illegal immigration), Exclusive Economic Zones patrolling and Search and Rescue. This aircraft can also function as a flying command post for the in-flight management of complex airborne missions involving several air and naval assets. Finally, when necessary, it can become a machine capable of airdropping rescue boats and parachuting skilled operators thanks to a in-flight operable door.
The ATR 72MP has been considerably modified starting form its commercial ATR 72-600 version
A modular mission system
The core of the ATR 72MP’s mission suite is its modular mission ATOS (Airborne Tactical Observation and Surveillance) system. Designed by Leonardo’s Airborne and Space Systems Division, ATOS manages the aircraft’s wide spectrum of sensors, combining the information received in a comprehensive tactical situation and showing the results to mission system operators in the most suitable format, thus providing excellent situational awareness. Thanks to its advanced man-machine interface, only two system operators are needed to make full use of ATOS in the standard aircraft configuration.
One of the 4 ultra-modern workstations for mission system operators
Inside the ATR 72MP
The basic configuration includes first of all the Seaspray 7300E, active electronic scanned array multimode radar by Leonardo’s Airborne and Space Systems Division, capable of long range detection, monitoring and identifying targets, covering 360°. The radar is optimised to perform operations against sea-surface targets, providing excellent tracking and simultaneous scanning capabilities. It also has air-to-air, and weather modes and the so-called "Moving Target Indicator" capability, which allows land monitoring as well.
Real time mapping of large areas is possible and so are snapshots of medium-sized fixed targets, such as buildings, with the "Synthetic Aperture Radar" mode, while the "Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar" mode is used to obtain profiles of naval targets. To support targets identification, a friend or foe interrogator and/or an automatic target classifier can optionally be coupled with the radar.
The electro-optical turret FLIR Systems Star Safire 380 HD includes various optical sensors (a high-definition TV camera, an advanced infrared vision system, a low light TV camera), ensuring the passive targets detection and identification in any light condition. Optional sensors may be added by incorporating a rangefinder, an illuminator and a target designator in the turret.
The aircraft is equipped with absolutely complete avionics and communications suites and sets of sensors
For the identification and localisation of any target equipped with the AIS transponder type, the automatic identification system allows for producing a complete picture of the position and identity of the naval units in the area.
For search and rescue operations, the Direction Finder is capable of locating the direction of radio emitters in the frequency range mainly used during SAR missions (30-410 MHz).
In addition to the IFF transponder, the avionics suite of the aircraft adds to the advanced digital cockpit of the ATR 72-600 two INS/GPS systems and a TACAN for navigation and a tactical display in the cockpit that provides pilots with mission system data.
The basic communications suite includes 3 V/UHF radios and a HF radio, managed through an advanced internal communication system. A wide band SATCOM system and a data link allow for the exchange of mission data with other cooperating assets and ground control centers. The communications suite can be expanded to meet the specific needs of the customer, for example by adding an additional radio (V/UHF or HF) or including specific data link types.
The best solution for crews
Thanks to its commercial origin, the ATR 72MP can guarantee a level of ergonomics that is normally not found on military aircrafts. The environmental control system, which provides ideal pressure and optimal air conditioning in all phases of flight, the very low levels of internal noise, ergonomic seats, a fully equipped galley and the civilian standard toilet all contribute to reduce the workload and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the crew during patrol missions, which typically can last more than eight hours.
Besides the two pilots and two mission system operators, the aircraft crew includes two observers, whose main tasks are to employ the two large observation bubble windows to perform visual search and airdrop emergency equipment through the in-flight operable door for SAR missions.
The cockpit of a P-72A aircraft of the Italian Air Force
By adding optional sub-systems and equipment, thanks also to the major provisions already installed, the ATR 72MP can evolve in an effective intelligence gathering and/or anti-submarine warfare platform.
To allow the aircraft to operate in hostile environments, a complete self-protection system is available as an option able to protect the aircraft from radar, infrared and laser guided threats.
The flexibility and capabity for growth of the platform and mission system allow the basic ATR 72MP to increase the types of missions that may be carried out by including several additional sensors, all controlled by ATOS. To keep the crew’s workload at an optimal level, the installation of any of these optional sensors involves the introduction of two additional mission system operators with associated workstations.
P-72A equipment for the Air Force includes the DASS self-protection system and the passive ESM/ELINT system (Copyright by Lidie Berendson)
For example, the aircraft can be equipped with the passive Elettronica ELT-800V2 Electronic Support Measures (ESM)/ELINT system, able to detect, analyse and identify, on 360°, electro-magnetic emitters in a wide spectrum of frequencies, pinpointing their geographic location. Data from this system are integrated seamlessly into the overall tactical situation developed by ATOS, giving the aircraft excellent intelligence gathering capability.
The Italian Air Force, the launch customer for the ATR 72MP, requested that this ELINT system be included in its customised aircraft configuration, named P-72A.
The ATR 72ASW
For anti-submarine warfare, the ATR 72MP can evolve into the ATR 72ASW, through the installation of a special sensor and sub-system package. This includes a system for storing and dropping sonobuoys, which allows for the precise release of active or passive sonobuoys according to the appropriate search patterns.
The ATR 72ASW
An acoustic sub-system handles the sonobuoys that were dropped and analyses the data they collect. The information provided by the buoys allows mission system to locate and track underwater targets, creating a corresponding detailed tactical situation.
Finally, a weapons system with two torpedoes to attack underwater threats can be installed.