Helicopters for naval missions

Helicopters for naval missions

The sea has always been a place of exchange, trade, exploration, migration and, in some cases and historical contexts, a setting for competition and clash between the great powers. In the last 30 years, along with the development of the global economy, the sea has been a major strategic channel for the transport of raw materials and the exploitation of energy resources. The defence of maritime interests has, therefore, become a priority for all advanced economies, and governments are now facing very different scenarios that range from rescue at sea to piracy, terrorism and the most sophisticated and potentially disruptive threats.

In this context, the use of helicopters turns out to be one of the most effective and popular, thanks to their flexibility and ability to respond to the requirements of the various theatres of operation.


Sea operations

Helicopters for naval applications frequently operate in particularly difficult and challenging environments; hence the need to design and build them as flexible means of transport, multi-role and performing a wide range of missions ranging from coastal patrol to search and rescue (SAR), humanitarian support, anti-terrorism and the fight against sea mines. They must operate day and night and under all weather conditions. In order to successfully meet these requirements, naval mission systems are studied at avionics testing and integration centres, where research and development are conducted, including equipment tests and function simulations.

There are two main types of use for helicopters on naval missions: multi-purpose and specialised. A significant portion of the global fleet is coast-based and is employed for patrol, surveillance and SAR missions. Other helicopters are loaded onto ships, often stationed at sea for long periods of time. This requires the presence on board of all the spare parts and the personnel to keep them efficient. These helicopters must be able to operate safely from ship bridges including with sea force 6 and in all weather conditions, having a sufficient load capacity to transport all the mission sensors, defensive aids, weaponry and fuel needed to carry out the mission.



Leonardo's products

Leonardo has a long and important tradition in the helicopter for naval use industry and offers a range of products and integrated systems that can meet all market needs.

Leonardo's naval tradition goes back a long way, including historical models such as the Dragonfly and the Whirlwind, operational in the early 1950s of the last century, and the Wasp and the Wessex, which entered service in the 1960s. The AB47, AB204 and AB212 are also part of the history of helicopters that operated at sea.

These were followed by the Lynx and Sea King, licensed by Sikorsky. In more recent years, the AW101, AW159 and NH90 entered into service, designed specifically for naval use, while other commercial models, such as the AW139 and AW189, are experiencing growing success in missions of this type.


The AW139 and AW189 are commercial helicopters, both leaders in their weight class, designed to perform various missions including emergency medical service (EMS), SAR, coastal patrol, police missions and government tasks. Also at sea, they provide emergency workers with a high potential for the development of operations, combining innovative technologies with the experience and reliability of AgustaWestland products.

The AW159 is a helicopter designed for naval missions, based on the experience developed with the Super Lynx 300 and optimised to operate also in coastal environments. The AW159 has a significantly greater payload than its predecessor, new engines, advanced sensors and communication and data management systems that make it an ideal naval platform and utility to meet a variety of needs.


The NH90 is available in two versions featuring the same basic standard configuration part of a modular design: NFH for naval uses and TTH for land-based applications. The NFH version is used for the detection, classification, identification and attack of submarines and surface targets both day and night. It is equipped with an electronic warfare system (EWS), night vision (FLIR), sonar buoys, a spinning sonar, a surface movement radar, anti-submarine weapons and anti-ship missiles. 

The AW101 is the most advanced multi-role naval helicopter currently available. Capable of operating in coordination with other naval units or independently, the AW101 is equipped with an integrated mission system used for anti-submarine and anti-ship missions, air-raid alarm, target identification in long-range operations, demining, search and rescue and as a support in amphibious operations.  It can operate also from small naval units, or  land bases.

Today, there are more than 900 Leonardo helicopters for naval operations in service throughout the world, with more than two-thirds of them operating in Europe and North America.

Leonardo 17/02/2017