The Agusta A129 Mangusta (English: Mongoose) is an attack helicopter originally designed and produced by Italian company Agusta. It is the first attack helicopter to be designed and produced wholly in Europe. It has continued to be developed by AgustaWestland, the successor company to Agusta. The A129 has undergone several combat deployments since entering service with the Italian Army in the 1990s.
A derivative of the A129, the TAI/AgustaWestland T129 ATAK, has been developed by Turkish Aerospace Industries in cooperation with AgustaWestland for the Turkish Army and potential customers.
In 1972,the Italian Army began forming a requirement for a light observation and anti-tank helicopter; around the same time, the West German military had identified a similar need. The two nations' requirements led to a joint project being initiated between the Italian company Agusta and West German company MBB; however, the joint effort was soon dissolved following preliminary work. Agusta had initially studied the development of a combat-oriented derivative of their existing A109 helicopter, however they decided to proceed with the development of a more ambitious helicopter design. In 1978, Agusta formally began the design process on what would become the A129.
On 11 September 1983, the first of five A129 prototypes made the type's maiden flight; the fifth prototype would first fly in March 1986. Around the same time, the Italian Army placed an order for a total of 60 A129s. According to defence publication Jane's Information Group, by 1985, the A129 was considered to be a comparable attack helicopter to the American-built McDonnell Douglas AH-64 Apache, and showed potential on the export market.
During the 1980s, Agusta sought to partner with Westland Helicopters to develop a common light attack helicopter, other prospective manufacturing participants in the joint initiative included Fokker and Construcciones Aeronáuticas SA. In 1986, the governments of Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom signed a memorandum of understanding to investigate an improved version of the A129, alternatively called the Joint European Helicopter Tonal or Light Attack Helicopter (LAH). By 1988, feasibility studies for four different options had been conducted for the LAH, these would have between 80 per cent and 20 per cent growth over the initial A129; both single-engine and twin-engine configurations were examined using various new powerplants, as well as a new rotor system, retractable landing gear, improved sensors and more powerful armament. However, the LAH project collapsed in 1990 following Britain and the Netherlands independently deciding to withdraw from the program and eventually procure the AH-64 Apache instead.Agusta proceeded to develop the A129 International, or A129I, an upgraded version of the A129 for export customers. The A129I featured a five-bladed main rotor (early production aircraft employed a four-bladed main rotor), a pair of LHTEC T800 engines (replacing the Rolls-Royce Gem engines) and an upgraded transmission; the A129I also had new weapons and electronic warfare systems. In 1998, the Italian Army had decided to upgrade a portion of their A129 fleet with many of the A129I's systems, the first of the remanufactured helicopters was delivered in 2002. In September 2007, the A129I was formally redesignated as the AW129.
During the Australian Army's AIR 87 project to procure a new Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter fleet, the Agusta A129 was one of the contenders; it was one of the three attack helicopters, alongside the AH-64 Apache and the Eurocopter Tiger, to be short-listed out of the six tenders submitted. In December 2001, Australia announced its selection of the Eurocopter Tiger as the winning bid.
Turkey had sought a new attack helicopter since the 1990s to replace their diminished Bell AH-1 Cobra and Bell AH-1 SuperCobra fleets. Following a highly protracted selection process, in September 2007, an order was issued for 51 TAI/AgustaWestland T129 ATAK helicopters, a variant of the A129 International. As a part of the deal with AgustaWestland, Turkish defense firm TAI acquired the rights for future manufacturing of the T129; TAI intends to produce the T129 for export customers. Various components and avionics systems are intended to be replaced with indigenously-produced systems as they are developed.
The A129 Mangusta is the first European attack helicopter; as such it has several original aspects to its design, such as being the first helicopter to make use of a fully computerised integrated management system to reduce crew workload. It was decided that much of the helicopter's functionality was to be automated; as such, parts of the flight and armament systems are monitored and directly controlled by onboard computers. The A129 shares considerable design similarities to Agusta's earlier A109 utility helicopter; the rear section of the A129 was derived from the A109 and incorporated to an entirely new forward section. The A129's fuselage is highly angular and armoured for ballistic protection; the composite rotor blades are also able to withstand hits from 23mm cannon fire. The two man crew, comprising a pilot and gunner, sit in a conventional tandem cockpit.
The A129 can be used in the anti-armour, armed reconnaissance, ground attack, escort, fire support and anti-aircraft roles. For the anti-ground mission the helicopter can employ various armaments, such as up to eight Hellfire missiles. In the air-to-air role, the FIM-92 Stinger missile was certified for use in 2003. The A129 can also be equipped with 81 mm or 70 mm (2.75 in) unguided rockets; a M197 three-barrel 20 mm cannon is also installed onto a nose-mounted Oto Melara TM-197B turret. By 2014, the Spike-ER, a fourth-generation anti-tank missile, had been added to the A129's arsenal.
Power is provided by a pair of Rolls-Royce Gem 2-1004D turboshaft engines, the engines have been designed to incorporate infrared heat signature reduction measures. One of the key protective measures incorporated onto the A129 include the electronic warfare and SIAP (Single Integrated Air Picture) self-protection suite. Elements of the mission interface systems and the onboard software integrated onto later aircraft were produced by Selex Galileo.
The A129 is equipped with infrared night vision systems and is capable of operating at day or night in all-weather conditions. Laser systems are fitted onto newer aircraft for range-finding and target designation purposes, the A129 can laser-designate targets for other friendly aircraft to attack. On the AW129D, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems's Toplite III sight is used as the primary targeting system; it is able to act as a FLIR and has both manual and automatic target tracking modes, Toplite also provides a greater detection and identification range than the 1970s era HeliTOW sensor it replaced. In 1998, Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) formally partnered with Agusta to offer various avionics and weapons upgrades to potential A129 operators; various IAI technologies have since been proposed and implemented on Italian A129s.
The Italian Army would receive a total of 60 A129 helicopters, deliveries of the type began in 1990. In 1999, AgustaWestland received a contract to produce the last batch of 15 A129s to the new combat CBT configuration; in late 2001, the Italian Army opted to have all of their A129s retrofitted to the improved A129 CBT standard. As of 2011, AgustaWestland plans to modify a total of 24 A129s to the new ARH-129D aerial reconnaissance standard and manufacture a further 24 new-built ARH-129Ds for the Italian Army.
In Italian service, the Mangusta has successfully deployed on several United Nations missions in nations such as the Republic of Macedonia, Somalia and Angola. The A-129 proved to be suitable in the peacekeeping role and well-suited to operations in hot climates; the type was reported to have been highly reliable and extremely flexible during the deployment to Somalia.
Three A129 helicopters were deployed in Iraq to provide air support for the Italian forces in Nassiriya. Several A129s have also been stationed in Afghanistan to support in-theatre operations by Italian and allied forces. In November 2014, the latest variant of the A129, the AW-129D, was deployed to Afghanistan for the first time.
In January 2015, the Italian Army opted for an enhancement package their existing A129 attack helicopters. The upgrades, which are to enter service prior to 2020, focus on increasing the A129's endurance, speed, situational awareness, and information-handling capabilities; other goals included a reduction in pilot workload and integrating the aircraft with future tactical UAVs. A revealed alternative that was considered and rejected was the replacement of the type with an attack-orientated variant of the newer AgustaWestland AW149 helicopter, upgrading the existing A129s was considered to be less risky and time-consuming.
In March 2016, the Italian government announced that it was deploying four A129 attack helicopters and four NHIndustries NH90 transport helicopters along with 130 personnel to the Kurdistan region of Iraq to perform combat search and rescue mission as part of a multinational effort to help combat Islamic State militants within the region and specifically to protect the Mosul Dam.
Production models A129 Mangusta: Original production version, powered by two Rolls-Royce Gem 2 turboshaft engines. Maximum takeoff weight of 4,100 kg; 45 built for the Italian Army.
A129 International: Upgraded version developed for export with more powerful LHTEC T800 turboshafts; in its final configuration, it had a five-bladed main rotor, an improved transmission, a M197 gatling cannon in a customized OTO Melara TM-197B nose turret, improved avionics and support for Hellfire anti-tank missiles and Stinger air-to-air missiles. Maximum takeoff weight of 5,000 kg.
A129 CBT / A129C: Upgraded "Combat" (CBT) version for the Italian Army incorporating most of the features of the A129 International but retaining the original Gem turboshaft engines (although an uprated transmission system is fitted); its main anti-tank weapon remains the TOW missile; it can be equipped with auxiliary fuel tanks for extended range and Stinger missiles for escort duties. Maximum takeoff weight of 4,600 kg; 15 built for the Italian Army, plus all 45 standard A129s later upgraded to A129C standard.
A129D: (AgustaWestland AW129D) Updated version of the A129C with improved avionics, comprising multifunctional displays, and a new Rafael TopLite III optronic system in place of the original Saab HeliTow unit; the TOW missiles are replaced by the much more modern and capable Spike-ER missiles. Maximum takeoff weight of 4,600 kg; 32 A129C have been upgraded to the A129D standard.
T129: (AgustaWestland AW729) Turkish attack helicopter based on the A129 International, featuring Turkish-made avionics and weaponry.
A129 LBH: A multipurpose assault helicopter version with a new cabin structure completely with space for carrying eight troops in addition to the two crew. The abbreviation LBH stands for Light Battlefield Helicopter. This version was designated A139 by Agusta.
A129 Multi-Role Proposed version, not built.
A129 Scout: Proposed reconnaissance version, not built.
A129 Shipboard: Proposed naval version, not built.
Tonal: Proposed derivative for Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and United Kingdom, with more powerful engines, a new rotor system, retractable landing gear, improved sensors, and more powerful armament. Cancelled in 1990.
Italian military designation for the A129 from 2012.
Italian military designation for the A129C from 2012.
Italian military designation for the A129D from 2012.
The A129 in Italian Army service has been designated as EA-1 (Elicottero d'Attacco - Attack Helicopter 1), later changed to EC-1 (Elicottero da Combattimento - Combat Helicopter 1) and ultimately to EES-1 (Elicottero da Esplorazione e Scorta - Scout and Escort Helicopter 1).
Turkish Army (see TAI/AgustaWestland T129)
Length: 12.28 m (40 ft 3 in)
Height: 3.35 m (11 ft 0 in)
Empty weight: 2,530 kg (5,578 lb)
Max takeoff weight: 4,600 kg (10,141 lb)
Powerplant: 2 × Rolls-Royce Gem 2-1004D (license built by Piaggio) turboshaft engines, 664 kW (890 hp) each
Main rotor diameter: 11.9 m (39 ft 1 in)
Main rotor area: 111.2 m2 (1,197 sq ft) 5-bladed main rotor
Maximum speed: 278 km/h (173 mph, 150 kn)
Cruise speed: 229 km/h (142 mph, 124 kn)
Range: 510 km (320 mi, 280 nmi)
Ferry range: 1,000 km (620 mi, 540 nmi)
Service ceiling: 4,725 m (15,502 ft)
Rate of climb: 10.2 m/s (2,010 ft/min)
1× 20 mm (0.787 in) M197 three-barrel Gatling-type cannon (500 rounds) in a TM197B Light Turreted Gun System (only CBT version)
12.7 mm (.50 in) machine gun pod
Rockets: 4 pods with
38× 81 mm (3.19 in) unguided rockets or
76× 70 mm (2.75 in) unguided rockets or
8× AGM-114 Hellfire or BGM-71 TOW or Spike-ER anti-tank missiles
4-8× AIM-92 Stinger or Mistral anti-aircraft missiles