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INTERVIEWLeonardo hopes for expanded collaborations with Korea

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Leonardo's AWHero rotary uncrewed aerial system / Courtesy of Leonardo
Leonardo's AWHero rotary uncrewed aerial system / Courtesy of Leonardo

Multinational firm ready to help handle threats in Indo-Pacific

By Kang Seung-woo

Leonardo, a global giant in aerospace, defense and security, has a long track record of collaborating with Korea in both military and non-military sectors.

The Republic of Korea (ROK) Navy has operated the firm's best-selling AW159 maritime operations helicopter, while the nation's Coast Guard, firefighting services and medical operators are also its faithful customers.

Rather than resting on its laurels, the multinational company headquartered in Rome and present in Korea with its branch office is seeking to increase its collaborations with Korean industries and partners on new programs.

"For us, Korea is one of the top partner and the top markets," Alberto Pietra, Leonardo's senior vice president for Asia and Far East regional markets, said during an interview with The Korea Times on the sidelines of the Defense Expo Korea (DX Korea), Friday.

Alberto Pietra
Alberto Pietra
The biennial military fair was held from Sept. 21 to 25, and Leonardo participated for the first time in the exhibition on equipment for ground forces.

"Our interest in this market is not only for the present volume we are managing, but for the potentiality in the future," Pietra added.

Pietra said his company was interested in the ROK Army's envisaged plan to acquire attack helicopters. Currently, the Army operates U.S.-made attack helicopters, including Bell's Cobra and Boeing's Apache.

"The ROK Army already has attack helicopters from the United States and what we have seen is the willingness of your government to consider alternative sources for the future, and particularly consider the possibility of collaboration to develop an indigenous heavy attack helicopter. In this matter, we are available to collaborate with your local champions in order to co-develop a solution and provide strong support for the domestic industry in order to deliver ROK Army and Korea with the best long-term solution," Pietra said.

"So, we gave our availability (to the ROK Army and relevant agencies). In this scenario we see our role as the major partner and contributor of world-class system capabilities to a local Prime Contractor, so we wait for further decisions."

Currently, the Korean defense industry is intent on the KF-21 Boramae program, aimed at the domestic development of a last generation fighter jet, and Leonardo believes it can help thanks to its strong experience.

"Our capabilities in the fighter domain are at the age of technology because we are strongly involved in the Eurofighter Typhoon program with our Italian and British businesses. And we are also involved in the future program FCAS (the Future Combat Air System), called the Tempest, in which Italy, the United Kingdom and Sweden are participating," he said. "So we are well established in this market … we are ready to collaborate worldwide in any fighter program."

Pietra also said his company was already collaborating on the KF-21 even though he could not go into details due to their private agreement.

Leonardo, which provides from single sensors to entire systems for aerospace, defense and security applications, can also integrate other companies' equipment in its platform and its equipment in other companies' platforms.

"We are a system of systems integrator … so we can provide the entire chain of capability up to the higher level and of course, when we enter into a partnership with a customer that focuses on a single equipment at the lower level, we can provide the experience of having integrated that equipment into a higher-level system," Pietra said, adding that the 76/62 Super Rapid multi-feeding gun mount is a lightweight, rapid-fire naval gun for air defense and anti-surface operations ― part of Korean naval export campaigns.

"This is one of the advantages that we bring to our partners, starting from the position to own the Intellectual Property of our wide portfolio of solutions."

Leonardo said it has strategic collaborations with Korean partners, both in technical and commercial activities, to promote integrated solutions in export markets and on national program support.

For instance, its avionics systems are used in a variety of roles ― both as products fitted to military aircraft manufactured in Korea and as part of the development of future systems such as the KF-21.

Leonardo's AW-119 / Courtesy of Leonardo
Leonardo's AW-119 / Courtesy of Leonardo

"Our radar and communications systems are on ships both in domestic and export applications," Pietra said.

Currently, the Indo-Pacific region faces heightened geopolitical tensions, and security needs include mostly air defense and surveillance and land technologies, such as guided ammunition, such as the Vulcano 155-millimeter, available in ballistic extended range and guided long range variants, which can reach distances up to 70 kilometers and which the company displayed in DX Korea.

In that respect, Leonardo believes that the company has the capabilities and the experience to support the region, as well as Korea, in their security needs with state-of-the-art and tailored solutions in all of these domains.

"This is an area which is very turbulent as you have constant threats and other threats are potentially growing up, the Industry can contribute to peace and stabilization by its solutions," Pietra said.

Maritime patrol are essential operations for coastal countries and Leonardo says it offers operation-proved solution as aircraft and helicopters, including mission systems and sensors, as well as new technological solutions for civil and defense operations over land and sea such as AWHero, a dual-use rotary unmanned air system (UAS). This uncrewed platform is a state-of-the art 200-kilogram class rotary UAS that leverages Leonardo's strengths and extensive experience in rotorcraft development and system integration enabling military certified capability, including longstanding expertise in naval rotorcraft.

Also, Leonardo is one of the very few companies worldwide covering the cyber domain as well as land, air, sea and space sectors.

"Leonardo already provided its solutions for cyber protection and training in the region and cyber is always getting more and more important as the digital environment is always more integrated in our everyday activities, also including the ones related with defense," Pietra said.

Kang Seung-woo


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