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Italian defence and aerospace giant Leonardo sees many opportunities in the Southeast Asian naval market and believes it has both the qualities and flexibility to secure substantial business in the region, a key company official asserted at the LIMA 2023 defence exhibition in Llangkawi, Malaysia, on 23 May 2023.

“Leonardo is pretty unique in being the only company to supply both sensors and weapons,” Marco Melani, Leonardo’s vice president of Electronics Marketing and Sales for the Far East, told a gathering of international journalists at LIMA. This capability, he explained, means that when Leonardo is designing a sensor it is always cognisant of the weapon system that goes with it and vice versa.

Leonardo also ensures that the company itself produces the core technology for its products, so that for its sonar systems, for example, the transducers are produced in house.

Substantiating an assertion by Melani that Leonardo’s product portfolio covers very many aspects of a modern combat vessel, anchored off Llangkawi for LIMA 2023 was the Italian multi-purpose offshore patrol vessel ITS Francesco Morosini: the second of seven such vessels that form part of the renewal of the Italian fleet. As well as providing this vessel’s Oto Melara 127/64 mm Vulcano main gun and 75/62 mm Strales anti-aircraft gun, Leonardo also supplies the vessel’s command management system, fire-control system, anti-air warfare system, air and ground surveillance radars, navigation radars, infra-red search and track system, IFF system, diver detection sonar, active electronically scanned-array (AESA) 3D dual-band radar and decoy launchers, among others.

ITS Morosini’s visit to LIMA came amid the ship’s first operational deployment since being handed over to the Italian Navy by Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri in October 2022.

The Italian multi-purpose offshore patrol vessel ITS Francesco Morosini, which was anchored off Llangkawi for LIMA 2023, is a good advert for Leonardo, which produced many of its systems, sensors and weapons. (Photo: Leonardo)

Regarding business opportunities in Southeast Asia, Melani said the region is “very rich” in naval projects and that Leonardo is “very interested in all of these”.

A key strength for the company in terms of its ability to secure this business, Melani asserted, is that it is platform agnostic, even though there is inevitably a strong relationship with Fincantieri.

Noting that many companies competing for programmes in Southeast Asia are both competitors and partners to Leonardo in various programmes, Melani emphasised that “compromise is very important” in the company’s approach, along with flexibility and modularity. This allows Leonardo to address the largest, very demanding programmes right down to the smallest requirements.

“We are ready to be very modular,” said Melani, “so whenever someone asks only for the gun, we will offer just the gun.”

Melani also pointed out that a key aspect of doing business in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia is meeting locals demands for industrial co-operation, thereby enhancing the strength of local industry. Leonardo’s response to this is to be in strict compliance with all such regulations.

Peter Felstead