The Italian Army deployed an upgraded version of its Mangusta attack helicopter to Afghanistan for operational testing, Italian sources confirm.
The AW129D has been tested on the ranges in Sardinia, where it apparently also flew airborne forward air control and laser targeting mission for Italian Air Force jets, but the Esercito Italiano now wants a real test. The D-version has a 20 mm gun, plus a Rafael Toplite III EOS turret and can launch Spike Extended Range missiles. The new Toplite is a big improvement to the former HeliTow. It enables Mangusta crews to detect and identify targets much further away then before, although how far exactly has actually not been disclosed.
The AW129D arrived with NATO’s Train Advise Assist Command West (TAAC-W) – with Herat Airfield as regional support field – in November, where older AW129CBTs already flew more than 10,000 flight hours. The Mangustas fly combat missions in pairs and ground support missions mostly together with an NH90 with special forces troops on board.
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.
The Turkish Land Forces (Türk Kara Kuvvetleri) have officially started flying their new T-129 (ATAK) attack helicopters as of May 2014, although the first nine now being operated are not fully developed yet.
The early development version (so-called EDH or T-129A) lacks the ability to fire anti-tank missiles, but has limited operational capability with its on-board 20 mm gatling gun and rocket pods for 70 mm (2.75 in) projectiles. Partner manufacturing companies Turkish Aerospace Industries and AgustaWestland are slowly getting towards the all-capable T-129B.
The new Turkish attack helicopter is a derivative of AgustaWestland’s own A129 Mangusta, but it has a more powerful engine and will be able to carry up to 12 of the Turkish variant of the Hellfire II anti-tank missile, called the UMTAS, as well as Stinger missiles. It is also said it might operate a Turkish developed Longbow-kind-of-radar.
The TKK is set to have a total of 60 T-129Bs, with the current T-129A being upgraded to B-standard somewhere in the near future.