The Turkish Aerospace Industries / AgustaWestland T-129 ATAK might be the unexpected outsider to win the Malaysian Army deal for six attack helicopters. While many experts bet on the AH-64D Apache, the Bell AH-1Z Viper or the Airbus Helicopters EC665 Tigre to make it to the Asian country, the T-129 might just be what Kuala Lumpur seeks to supplement its AgustaWestland AW109s it is currently arming.
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“The armed forces are to acquire six attack helicopters to reinforce operations in Esszone, as soon as possible,” Deputy Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Bakri announced on 19 December 2014. The Esszone is the Eastern Sabah Safety Zone (Esszone): an area covering the districts of Kudat, Kota Marudu, Pitas, Beluran, Sandakan, Kinabatangan, Lahad Datu, Kunak, Semporna and Tawau. It is located on the island of Kalimantan that Malaysia shares with Indonesia and Brunei. Armed rebel groups from the Sulu Archipelago invaded the eastern part of it in March 2013.
As an intermediate solution to beef up its fighting capabilities Malaysia’s Army Air Corps are mounting 10 newly purchased General Electric M134D Hybrid Miniguns on its ten AgustaWestland AW109s. By not ordering a 11th of these Gatling-type guns, the faith of the 11th AW109LOH the Army received might have been sealed. This chopper was badly damaged during a crash on 30 January 2014. The AW109s currently make up the complete air fleet of the army.
Officially the AW109s are based at Kluang, but armed with the Miniguns some are or will operate out of Labuan Airbase at Sabah. The Royal Malaysian Air Force’s 15 Squadron “Panther” – flying Hawk Mk108 and Mk208s Hawk Mk208 – has already relocated from Butterworth Airbase to Labuan on 7 November. Moreover the Defence Ministry is aiming at basing its top F/A-18s and Su-30MKMs at Labuan as well, likely in smaller rotating detachments of 4 to 8 aircraft at a time. Labuan itself already was home to 5 Squadron flying the Agusta S61A-4 Nuri (licensed version of the Westland Sea King) helicopter and 14 Squadron with the C-130H30 Hercules tactical airlifter.
Whether or not Malaysia will choose the T-129 will very much depends on the costs the manufacturer wishes to put on the invoice. With the current almost all European chopper fleet in the Malaysian armed forces, the Airbus Tigre initially seems to have the best cards on the table. But we at Airheadsfly.com won’t be surprised if Kuala Lumpur decides in favour of probably the perfect outsider in this bid: the Italian designed but Turkish redefined TAI T-129 ATAK.
© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
>>> See our feature T-129 ATAK makes its mark