TechNorth Macedonia shifts from Russian to Western military equipment

North Macedonia shifts from Russian to Western military equipment

AW169 can come in a version with wheeled landing gear as well as with skids.
AW169 can come in a version with wheeled landing gear as well as with skids.
Images source: © Leonardo

5:33 PM EDT, March 26, 2024

North Macedonia, a NATO member, has decided to phase out its Russian-made weapons in favor of Western equipment, marking a significant shift in its military assets. The country has announced its plans to acquire eight multipurpose helicopters from the Italian conglomerate, Leonardo, making it North Macedonia's largest arms purchase since its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.

Historically, North Macedonia, like other former Yugoslav republics, has relied on Soviet or Russian weapons, including Mi-24W attack helicopters and Mi-8 transport helicopters. However, budget limitations have hindered the maintenance of these aircraft. With only a few helicopters remaining operational, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has underscored the impracticality of revamping these aging fleets.

AW169 of the Italian armed forces
AW169 of the Italian armed forces© Leonardo

Seeing an opportunity for modernization, North Macedonian authorities have agreed to transfer 12 Mi-24Ws to Ukraine, with half in flight-worthy condition and the rest serving as sources for spare parts. Notably, the operational helicopters had been upgraded with advanced systems by Elbit Systems, enhancing their night operation capabilities.

Although specific details of the deal remain undisclosed, North Macedonia is expected to have received financial compensation for these helicopters from either the European Union or the USA. This arrangement also included the transfer of four Su-25 attack planes to Ukraine, hinting at the likely future transfer of Mi-8 transport helicopters, all of which were originally purchased from Ukraine in the 90s.

In replacing the Russian helicopters, North Macedonia opted for two models from Leonardo: the AW149 and the AW169. The deal, valued at approximately 370 million USD, will be finalized through an intergovernmental agreement with Italy. The delivery of these helicopters is anticipated to take 2-3 years from the signing of the contract.

Leonardo's helicopters were chosen over formidable contenders from Airbus, Bell, and Lockheed Martin. Defense Minister Slavjanka Petrovska highlighted the Italian offer's superiority in terms of overall value, logistical considerations, and ease of maintenance. Procuring both helicopter types from a single manufacturer enabled North Macedonia to secure a more favorable deal and streamline maintenance and pilot training processes.

AW149 helicopter
AW149 helicopter© Licensor | MACIEJ_HYPS

The AW149M, intended for various missions including troop and cargo transport, search and rescue, and fire support, boasts a top speed of 194 mph and a range of 595 miles. One notable feature is its large sliding doors, facilitating rapid roping operations and allowing the installation of machine guns to support airborne troops. The exact configuration for North Macedonia has not been finalized, but similar orders have included armaments such as Hellfire missiles.

The AW169M, slightly smaller, can carry up to 10 passengers and is versatile enough for people and cargo transport, reconnaissance, fire support, and maritime surveillance. It features two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW210A1 engines and can be equipped with a variety of landing gear options and armaments. Countries such as Italy and Austria have placed orders for military versions of the AW169M, which is also popular among rescue and public safety agencies.

The multi-purpose AW149 helicopters were purchased by the Armed Forces of the Republic of Poland, among others.
The multi-purpose AW149 helicopters were purchased by the Armed Forces of the Republic of Poland, among others.© Licensor | MACIEJ_HYPS
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