War profiteer of the month: Leonardo

A military helicopter in flight. Two military personnel are sat on the outside.
An A129 helicopter built by former Leonardo subsidiary AgustaWestland

The Leonardo company logo in red.

Leonardo is an Italian arms company specialising in a wide range of defence and aerospace equipment. The company is part-owned by the Italian state which owns 30% of shares in the company, and dominates the Italian arms industry. Leonardo is the world’s 9th biggest arms company, with $8.9bn worth of arms sales in 2017, making up 68% of their income.

The company has 180 sites worldwide with over 46,000 employees. Leonardo has previously been called Leonardo-Finmeccanica and Finmeccanica.

The company is split into five key divisions: helicopters, aircraft, aerostructures, electronics, and cybersecurity. The company builds military helicopters, fighter aircraft, drones, missiles, radar and targetting systems, naval guns, artillery and armoured combat vehicles.

In September 2019 Leonardo was criticised – alongside 21 other companies – by Amnesty International for being unable to “adequately explain how they meet their human rights responsibilities and demonstrate proper due diligence” and that arms companies were "washing their hands of their responsibilities."

In April 2019 the head of Leonardo criticised Germany's decision to stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia, claiming that the decision will "damage Europe’s chances to integrate its defense industry."


Leonardo is involved in manufacturing a wide range of fighter jets, helicopters, and drones.

The F35 fighter jet – built by US company Lockheed Martin in partnership with other countries and companies - is the most expensive weapon system ever developed. According to the website f35.com, “every F35 built contains parts and components manufactured in Italy”. Leonardo has been contracted to build a minimum of 835 wings for the F35. The wings will be built at the “Final Assembly and Check-Out” (FACO) facility in Cameri in northern Italy. The FACO facility has also been selected by the US government as a regional overhaul, repair and upgrade centre.

Leonardo is also a member of the consortium of companies building the Eurofighter Typoon, alongside BAE Systems and Airbus. The Eurofighter has been sold to countries around the world, including Germany, Spain, Italy, UK, Austria, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar.


The company builds a wide range of military helicopters.

The AW109M is described as a “powerful, light, twin engine helicopter” and the “perfect platform” for “Armed Reconnaissance, Troop Transport, Fire Support, Command and Control, Search and Rescue (SAR), Medical Evacuation and Command Insertion.”

In January 2017 Leonardo was awarded a €487 million contract by the Italian Army to develop a successor to the A129 Mangusta attack helicopter, called the AW249. The AW249 will carry a 20mm chin mounted (placed at the front of the helicopter) and Spike guided missiles built by Israeli company Rafael.

Targetting systems

Leonardo builds a range of targetting systems used in helicopters, artillery, and other weapons. The Modernized Laser Rangefinder/Designator is used in Apache attack helicopters by the US military, providing “longer rangers and improved targetting”.

The LINAPS artillery “navigation, pointing and weapon management system” has been sold to the US, Poland, New Zealand, UAE, UK, Malaysia and Thailand.

Militarising EU borders

Leonardo has received millions of euros from the European Union. For example, the company was awarded a €1.7 million contract to trial drones for maritime border surveillance in the Mediterranean Sea.

The company is also heavily involved in the militarisation of borders in North Africa, having supplied the Libyan military since the lifting of an arms embargo in 2004, sold 15 helicopters for border patrol to Algeria in 2010 and 2011, and two helicopters to Mauritanian in 2013. In 2017 it was announced that Leonardo had been chosen by Austria to supply a PicoSAR radar surveillance system for Camcopter S-100 drones, which would be used to monitor borders in a north-African country, reportedly Tunisia.

Corruption allegations

In 2013 the companies then CEO was arrested following allegations he bribed Indian officials to secure the sale of twelve helicopters in 2010. Giuseppe Orsi was the head of AgustaWestland, a subsidiary that has since been integrated into the parent company. In the warrant for his arrest, prosecutors wrote : “AgustaWestland and its management seem to be used to paying bribes and we have reason to believe that such a corporate philosophy could be repeated in the future if not stopped through an arrest.” Orsi was acquitted in May 2019 .

In June 2018, research by the NGO Corruption Watch UK showed that the company or its agents have been implicated in wrongdoing in a number of corruption cases around the worldt. The “Anglo-Italian Job” report alleged that then-subsidiary AgustaWestland made payments to individuals with links to the South Korean military establishment to secure the sale of Wildcat helicopters, and kickbacks were paid to the former President of Panama in an attempt to sell surveillance equipment to Panama (the sale was cancelled in a deal that also saw the end of legal proceedings.

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