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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

AgustaWestland ARH-129D Mangusta

Rotor & Wing takes a look at various emerging attack helicopter options available for governments around the world.

By Douglas Nelms

ARH-129D is the latest attack variant of the AW129 Mangusta. AgustaWestland

AgustaWestland has now completed development and testing of upgraded weapons and target acquisition systems for the ARH-129D aerial reconnaissance helicopter, the latest version of the attack-variant AW129 Mangusta. The company has also completed the first flight of the T129, an upgraded AW129 being modified to meet the needs of the Turkish Land Forces Command’s ATAK (tactical reconnaissance and attack helicopter) program.

The most recent testing for the ARH-129D was conducted in Sardinia using a prototype. A major part of the testing for the aircraft was to ensure the compatibility of the aircraft’s laser systems—laser designator (LD), laser range finder (LRF), laser marker (LM) and laser spot detector (LSD)—with the electronic warfare and SIAP (single integrated air picture) self-protection suite, the company noted. Trials also verified the overall architecture and man-machine interface, the co-pilot/gunner dual hand-grip and head-up display (HUD) firing symbology.

The trials also completed the validation phase for Spike air-to-ground missiles fitted with both high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) and penetration blast fragmentation (PBF) warheads. The missiles were fired from distances over 6,000 meters (3.7 miles).

AgustaWestland said that the drift on the multi-function control display, when passing from the sight unit to the missile image, has been reduced, adding that the precision on the TM-197B machine guns that had been achieved with the older HeliTOW sighting unit was re-established.

Designers have also retained the tracking launch rails for missile firings to allow changes in the elevation of the missiles to be launched, rather than having to change the attitude of the aircraft. During the trials, the ARH-129D prototype was used to designate a target, the first time employing an Italian Army helicopter rather than a fixed-wing Italian Air Force aircraft. The IAF dropped Lizard-guided bombs from its AMX training/light attack aircraft in both a stabilized flight profile at 15,000 feet and in a dive profile released between 10,000 and 8,000 feet. Tests were done with the ARH-129D’s LD locking onto the bombs in order to send to targets both before and after launch. Israel-based Elbit Systems makes the Lizard, and relies on a semi-active laser guided kit to hit the target. The company said that the laser designator will allow the aircraft to use 2.75-inch guided rockets or “smart” 155 mm artillery shells.

Final certification of the D model Mangusta helicopter is expected early next year, with kits that will include both the Rafael Toplite III and Spike systems, as well as interfaces such as the Selex Galileo compact control interface unit. Like AgustaWestland, Selex Galileo is a Finmeccanica company.

AgustaWestland plans to modify a total of 24 AW129 Mangustas into ARH-129Ds, followed by another 24 new builds, which will have further upgrades in terms of powerplants and computer capabilities. The Italian Army currently has 59 AW129s.

AgustaWestland has announced that its program to provide 60 T129s to the Turkish LFC is “progressing on time and on budget.” Delivery of nine early supplemental A129s is scheduled to begin in mid-2012, with the unit scheduled to receive 51 T129s starting in 2013. The first nine helicopters are intended for immediate operational needs and will have less powerful engines, simpler weapons systems and non-Turkish avionics. However, there are plans to upgrade these aircraft at some point in the future.

First flight of one of the T129 prototypes (P3) took place on March 11 in Vergiate, Italy. The first prototype (P6) developed by the full ATAK team is expected to fly “shortly,” the company said. The ATAK team consists of Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI)—the prime contractor and system integrator—while AgustaWestland and Aselsan are the main subcontractors. ATAK placed an order for 51 T129s in September 2007. In November of last year, it placed a €150 million ($213.3 million) order for an additional nine, bringing total orders to 60 aircraft, plus 41 options.

A total of six prototypes are being built, with three assembled in Italy dedicated to the development of the basic vehicle, and three assembled in Turkey dedicated to mission systems test and evaluation.

Evaluation testing of the ASELFLIR 300 targeting system and the upgraded turreted gun system has already been conducted, with initial product support, offset and technology transfer activities progressing on schedule, according to the company.

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