Leonardo (formerly Finmeccanica) is one of the world’s largest arms companies. According to SIPRI, it made arms sales of $11.2 billion in 2021, 73% of total company sales. It was the 13th biggest arms company in the world.
Leonardo is very much an Italian company, with the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance owning 30.2%, but there is also substantial production in the UK and US. Leonardo’s UK business includes what used to be Westland Helicopters, which became part of AgustaWestland and is now Leonardo Helicopters, as well as substantial military electronics, cyber & security, and space business.
The company as a whole has eight business sectors: military electronics, helicopters, aircraft, cyber & security, space (which includes two joint venture companies, Telespazio and Thales Alenia Space), unmanned systems, aerostructures, and automation (the latter a civilian business). Leonardo also has a 25% stake in the European missile manufacturer MBDA.
The company has been the main supplier of helicopters to the UK military. Its Apache attack helicopters (built under licence from Boeing) operated in Afghanistan and Libya. Its Lynx helicopters were used in the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
The T-129 attack helicopter – jointly developed by Leonardo and Turkish Aerospace Industries – has been extensively used by Turkey in its military operations against Kurdish groups.
The many other deals include a recent sale of 32 helicopters to the Egyptian military.
Another of Leonardo’s highly visible products is the Eurofighter Typhoon, manufactured along with Airbus and BAE Systems. The Typhoon has been used by the Saudi military in its devastating attacks on Yemen over the past six years.
Leonardo’s website boasts of its four decades of partnership with Saudi Arabia, which includes the Eurofighter Typhoon, electronic systems for the Typhoon and also the Tornado combat aircraft, military drones, radios and naval systems.
In 2016, Kuwait, one of the initial participants in the Saudi-led war on Yemen, ordered 28 Typhoons from Leonardo. The first six were delivered in 2022. However, the $8.7 billion deal has been mired in allegations of corruption, with two senior military officers charged in relation to the deal. Leonardo is not the subject of a judicial investigation relating to the deal.
Leonardo also boasts of its “long standing experience in the border control sector“.
It provides more details of the lens through which it sees borders: “Our solutions for Border, Territory & Maritime Control enable net-centric operations for border guards, patrol units, special forces, and all those components of the armed forces that conduct the protection of the national borders and the homeland territory.”
To enact this, it provides ground surveillance radar, thermal imaging cameras, command and control systems, helicopters, drones and much more. Specific equipment includes:
- its helicopters are widely used by Italy in its anti-migration operations in the Mediterranean
- it provides border surveillance with Frontex, using Falco drone weekly missions
- it was part of a consortium that received a €142 million contract in 2019 to create the EU’s “virtual walls”
- between 2006 and 2010 it delivered ten A-109K helicopters to Libya for border patrol (SIPRI).
More information on Leonardo’ borders activities can be found in The Business of Building Walls (pages 32-33, in particular).
Leonardo has a long and grubby history of corruption in its international arms sales business. A 2018 report by Shadow World Investigations details major corruption cases involving helicopter sales to South Korea, India, and Panama, with hundreds of millions of dollars allegedly distributed in bribes to win the deals. Summaries of the India and Korea deals can also be found on the Corruption Tracker website.