For the first time since its introduction into service in December 2016, the Italian Air Force’s (Aeronautica Militare) ATR-72MP was sent outside Italy to attend an international tradeshow. The aircraft (with official designation P-72A) made its official debut at the LIMA 2017 exhibition in Malaysia. This trip is part of a campaign carried out by the aircraft’s producer, Leonardo, who wants to promote this platform in Asia - particularly in Malaysia. So far, two aircraft have been delivered to the Italian military, with another two planned to be delivered this year.
Both the ATR-72MP’s crew and the aircraft itself were available to international delegations and journalists, who had a great opportunity to explore it and compare it with a commercial version -the ATR-72-600, which is a very popular twin-engine turboprop short-haul regional airliner, used worldwide. According to Leonardo’s representatives, there are no major differences between commercial ATR-72 and the military version – except, of course, internal equipment and a modified ATR-600 Glass Cockpit (including TACAN, two SAASM VI INS/GPS and one IFF TX) and a radio management system such that 4 V/UHF and 2 HF Radios can be controlled by the mission system operators and also from the cockpit. The plane can accommodate up to 20 passengers.
The ATR-72MP was described by Leonardo’s representatives as a multirole, versatile workhorse, suitable for a wide range of operations, including maritime patrol, SAR (with a rear door open during the flight), identification of surface vessels, ELINT, command-and-control, ISR or monitoring. What is important, Leonardo underlined, is that the ATR-72MP can execute different roles without a need to reconfigure internal equipment. ATR-72MP is equipped with the ATOS tactical observation and surveillance mission system, which creates a single situational picture gathered from various sensors, including Selex ES (now Leonardo) Seaspray 7300E AESA 360° surveillance radar with integrated IFF interrogator, a FLIR Systems Star SAFIRE HD electro-optical turret, an Automatic Identification System (AIS), a C-SAR ASARS system, and Elettronica’s Electronic Support Measures with self-protection (in the manual, semi-automatic and automatic modes), which is a modified version of the system of the C-27J Spartan (including chaff and flare dispensers, missile and laser warning systems and radar warning receiver/electronic support measures). “Radar can detect very small objects, such as survivors, boats or periscopes of submarines,” said Leonardo’s official during a media briefing at LIMA 2017. “Apart from main sensors there is also another very important, which is an ELINT system – it is built on ten antennas providing 360 degrees coverage. It can precisely detect, locate and identify radars used by targets. ATR-72MP has four interchangeable consoles.”
According to information acquired at LIMA 2017, Leonardo has already talked about potential orders with several Asian states, including Malaysia and the Philippines. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak visited the aircraft on the opening day of LIMA 2017; Kuala Lumpur has long signalled its willingness to procure a MPA-type aircraft but, for various reasons (mainly financial), the order has yet to progress.