Leonardo Unveils Upgraded AWHero Rotary Uncrewed Aerial Vehicle


The AWHero RUAS on the deck of the Paolo Thaon di Revel PPA. (Photo: Leonardo)

AWHero, now enhanced for operations in the naval domain, is currently the only RUAS in the 200 kg class with a military certification.

On Jun. 5, 2023, Leonardo unveiled the enhanced AWHero Rotary Uncrewed Aerial Vehicle, at Seafuture 2023, in La Spezia, Italy. The enhancements brought the aircraft to a new configuration based on the Concept of Operations (CONOPS) focused on multi-purpose operations in the naval domain.

The 200 kg RUAS, the only one in its class with a military certification, was unveiled during an official ceremony held on board Italian Navy’s Paolo Thaon di Revel PPA (Pattugliatore Polivalente d’Altura – Multipurpose Offshore Patrol Vessel). The ceremony was attended by representatives from industry and institutions, including the Italian Minister of Defense.

“AWHero is part of a forward-looking roadmap that Leonardo is implementing to maintain its leadership in vertical flight applications in the frame of current and future technological evolutions, which will extensively re-shape this industry,” said Gian Piero Cutillo, MD of Leonardo Helicopters. “Within this roadmap, uncrewed systems and relevant enabling technologies (i.e. automation/autonomy, communications, sensors integration and fusion) are key elements in which the company has been significantly investing, while  leveraging a fruitful collaboration with the Italian Military Authorities.”

The unmanned system builds upon the certified and proven basic configuration with which it shares the rotor system, transmissions, a core avionic system, data-link architecture, and a control station. However, compared to the configuration certified in 2021, a number on changes were made to better focus on the maritime operations CONOPS.

The new developments, which leverage on Leonardo’s unique extensive capabilities in rotorcraft system development, include in particular:

  • a heavy fuel powerplant based on a twin-engine solution, which targets increased efficiency, safety, and Time Between Overhauls;
  • airframe modifications optimized for the new powerplant and improved payload bay capacity, radar integration, sensor modularity and platform maintainability; reshaped landing gear for maximized on-deck stability and sensor field of view;
  • advanced sensor modularity with modular multi-payload architecture that allows in-the-field exchangeable sensors including the Leonardo Gabbiano TS Ultralight maritime radar, 8” EO/IR (Electro-optics/Infra-Red) and AIS (Automatic Identification System);
  • enhanced survivability from cyber threats in degraded and contested military operating environments is thanks to a dual redundant frequency diversity encrypted data-link, lost-link contingency procedures, anti-jamming GNSS – global navigation satellite system – and GNSS-out flight mode.
Infographic about AWHero’s features and the changes from the original design. (Image: Leonardo)

“The system enhancements unveiled today reflect the incremental yet firm move from basic design to CONOPS (Concept of Operations) focused configuration,” said Cutillo. “This is particularly true for the relevant naval applications, which remain a priority market for these kind of systems, which are able to meet intelligence and situational awareness extension capabilities with an optimized use of resources.”

Leonardo says AWHero is optimized to support a range of assets involved in a range of naval and multi-domain operations such as ISTAR (Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance), ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare), Electronic Warfare, Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) Communication Relay, Border Protection, Combat support, and Force Protection, and can be integrated with the naval combat management system.

Since 2019, AWHero has been conducting maritime surveillance capability demonstrations on ships within the framework of the OCEAN2020 initiative, the European Defence Fund strategic research programme for naval surveillance technology and maritime safety. In 2021 it achieved the Military Certification, based on the worldwide endorsed STANAG4702, demonstrates that the system’s design, development, production, and support meet Military Airworthiness Authority requirements.

Although its CONOPS is focused on maritime operations, AWHero is a versatile dual-use platform that can operate day and night, over land and sea, and perform a wide range of utility roles including disaster relief, environmental monitoring, support to firefighting, pipeline or powerline monitoring. It is also an ideal solution for security missions such as surveillance, patrol and aerial monitoring of sensitive targets.

A sideshot of the AWHero RUAS on the deck of the Paolo Thaon di Revel PPA. (Photo: Leonardo)

To help with naval operations, AWHero features fully automatic deck takeoff and landing, ease of deck handling, minimum time from alert to launch, foldable blades to expedite deck operations, minimal footprint in the hangar and maximized compatibility with the ship’s organic assets. Data-link supports by design multiple antenna in order to easily achieve the 360-degrees coverage around the ship. Control station design, containerized or fully integrated into the ship’s command system, enables optimization for the integration of the payload data into the Combat Management System in order to provide commanders with a comprehensive multi-domain FIND and FIX capability.

The airframe has two high-capacity and modular payload bays, on the nose and underbelly, that can carry multiple sensors, including the Leonardo Gabbiano TS Ultra-Light Maritime Radar, Electro-Optical /Infrared (EO/IR) sensor, Electronic Support Measures, Sonobuoy Data Relay and Light Imaging Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), SIGINT (SIGnals INTelligence) payload and a hyperspectral camera. The two bays allow for different combinations of multi-sensors suites enhancing the RUAS’ effectiveness in the roles for which it was designed.

The data collected by these sensors is then disseminated in the live theatre of operations by a wide band data-link capable of sharing in real time and to act as a communication node for networked naval, land, and air assets. The system can be easily interfaced with existing networks and provide live streaming video, radar images, identification of objects, ships, vehicles and people to remote video terminals.

Last but not least, AWHero can be teamed with manned aircraft from a permanent shore base or forward deployed operating base for Crewed-UnCrewed Teaming (CUC-T) operations, a capability that Leonardo is also exploring with other platforms. In fact, operating alongside manned helicopters, the RUAS can significantly enhance maritime operational effectiveness and tactical reach during land, littoral and blue-water operations.

Stefano D’Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he’s also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.


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