This article is a correction of a previous piece we published on 23 February.
High-level talks were held last week in Rome between representatives of the Hungarian and Italian defence forces in connection with the ongoing upgrade of the Hungarian military. The Italian side called the Hungarians’ attention to advanced Italian-made defence technologies, including drones, radars, and attack helicopters. While the offer from the Italian forces is impressive, it remains a question whether the Hungarian government is ready to buy any of the offered units.
According to the website Italian Defence Technologies, the helicopters in question are the newly developed Leonardo AW-249-NEES attack helicopters. The meeting was held at the headquarters of the Italian General Defence Secretariat (Segredifesa), and was organised by the Italian Ministry of Defence.
Italian newspapers reported that the Italian delegation was led by Brigadier General Luciano Portolano, who is also the Secretary of Defence, while on the Hungarian side, László Tömböl, chief advisor of the Defence Development Secretariat in the Prime Minister’s Government Office was in charge. László Tömböl is a retired major general, who formerly also served as chief of the Hungarian Defence Staff.
Luciano Portolano expressed his hope that the already friendly Italian-Hungarian relationship can be further strengthened. At the same time, he confirmed that the Italian defence industry is ready to provide all necessary support for the renewal of the Hungarian Defence Forces. To this end, they are seeking and exploring possible developments and government agreements.
László Tömböl emphasised that Hungary is particularly interested in deepening cooperation with Italy in the defence industry.
The parties identified specific Italian military products and technologies that could meet relevant Hungarian needs. Three of these were mentioned: the new AW249 NEES type helicopters, unmanned aerial systems (UAS), and counter unmanned aerial systems (C-UAS).
In Qatar, Italian C-UAS systems have already been tested, where fixed drone defence systems were installed, and portable jamming systems were also used. The strength of the Italian UAS capability is well demonstrated by the fact that the Italian Air Force was one of the first in Europe to use reconnaissance drones. The flagship of the Italian defence industry is Leonardo. The company is among the global top 10 defence contractors. Leonardo is partially owned by the Italian government, with the largest shareholder holding about 30 per cent of the shares.
The development and production of the new AW249 attack helicopters are also being carried out by Leonardo. If Hungary were to order these, it would be a novelty, as it was previously only known that the Italian government plans to acquire 48 of these helicopters to replace the old AW129 Mangusta, starting in 2025. Leonardo has been working on the project since 2017, and the new type performed its first flight in August 2022.
According to the manufacturer’s website, the AW249 meets all the requirements expected of the latest generation of combat helicopters
and can adapt to rapid changes in technical requirements over the next 30 years due to its use of open systems. It is considered the only new combat helicopter that combines advanced technology, outstanding performance, high survivability, and low operating costs.
The helicopter is powered by two engines, each with a nominal power of 2500 horsepower (1860 kilowatts). The maximum take-off weight falls within the range of 7500-8000 kilograms, with a cruising speed of 260 kilometres per hour. It is capable of remaining airborne for 3 hours without interruption. According to current information, it will be equipped with air-to-ground, air-to-air, and Spike anti-tank guided missiles, as well as a 20-millimeter cannon in the nose. The onboard system allows for collaboration with drones, and its crash resistance is highlighted: both the helicopter frame, seats, and fuel tanks are designed to withstand impact with the ground.
Hungarian daily Világgazdaság contacted the Ministry of Defence regarding the talks in Italy. The response of the MoD was cautious and did not comment on the likelihood of the purchase. ‘During the talks, representatives of the two countries reviewed new opportunities for Italian-Hungarian defence industry cooperation. The negotiations primarily involved establishing personal contacts. The parties informed each other about the ongoing military development programmes and defence industry developments in their respective countries. We hope that the dialogue can be continued at the expert level as well, to strengthen cooperation between the two countries,’ the Press Department of the Ministry of Defence wrote to the newspaper.