Dubai Air Show

ATAK turns A129 decidedly Turkish

 - November 6, 2007, 6:35 AM

Although Turkey announced its selection of the AgustaWestland A129 for its tactical reconnaissance and attack helicopter program in March, it took until September 7 to finalize a contract whereby the Anglo-Italian rotorcraft maker will participate in Turkey’s ATAK program in partnership with prime contractor Tusas Aerospace Industries (TAI). Other Turkish companies, such as Aselsan, will provide parts and subsystems for the helicopter to be called the T129.

The $2.7 billion ATAK program calls for a total of 51 helicopters–one prototype and 50 production aircraft. According to sources at AgustaWestland’s Finmeccanica parent group, its share totals almost $1.7 billion. An option for a further 41 T129s is part of the contract.

The T129 design is significantly different from that of the A129. While the key moving parts remain mostly similar, as  does the fuselage, the mission computer, avionics suite and all the systems integration will be developed and produced by Turkish companies in accord with Turkish army requirements. The agreement between AgustaWestland and the Turkish government includes transfer of the T129 production line from Italy to Turkey, with TAI to be the airframer for this variant of the helicopter. AgustaWestland plans to continue providing key components and subassemblies.

The development of part of the T129 avionics package started in 2004 with a $30 million research-and-development program focusing on the helicopter’s mission computer and associated software. Aselsan, TüBiTak-MAM and TAI formed a consortium known as AsMaTa to take responsibility for these items. However, the original development period of 18 months extended to 40 months; flights on an AH-1S Cobra test bed aircraft should commence next August.

The avionics package includes the following:

  • two multifunction displays per cockpit,
  • two Aselsan LN-100G INS/GPS sensors,
  • a Symetrics Industries IDM-501 data modem,
  • Ozisik cockpit management display system,
  • an AN/APX-117 identify-friend-or-foe unit manufactured under BAE Systems license by Aselsan, and
  • MXF-484 UH/VHF radio sets produced under Rockwell Collins license by the same company.

The T129 will be powered by two LHTEC CTS800-4N turboshafts, each providing 1,362 shp at sea level. The integration process for the T800 engines started years ago at AgustaWestland for its A129 International model. To fully exploit the output power, AgustaWestland has designed modifications for the transmission. The CTS800-4Ns should ensure good performance in hot-and-high conditions even at full takeoff weight, which for the T129 will be higher than the current Italian army A129 G.15 version.

The T129 will retain the Oto Melara TM-197B chin turret armed with an M197 20 mm Gatling gun, which Turkish pilots rated highly for accuracy during tests on Italian A129s. Turkey also will likely arm the helicopter with Rafael NTD extended-range missiles (which the Italian army also chose as an upgrade).

Laser-guided 2.75 rockets developed by Roketsan will certainly be part of the weapons suite. Moreover, the T129 will also be capable of carrying a pair of two-rail launchers for air-to-air Stinger missiles. AgustaWestland integrated the Stinger missile for the Italian A129s, the latest versions now equipped to carry the weapons system.

Aselsan is developing a helmet-mounted cueing system that will allow the pilot and gunner to slave the gun to their ocular aiming sight. It will also install its Aselflir 300-T, which is based on an eight- to 12-micrometer forward-looking infrared radar.
Aselsan also is developing a millimeter wave radar which mounts on the mast over the rotor to provide SAR/ISAR capabilities allowing target identification up to 20 miles. Aselsan plans to also provide the entire electronic warfare self-protection suite, including radar, missile and laser warning receivers, chaff- and flare-dispersing systems, RF jammer, IR countermeasure system, as well as the central processing and management units.

According to Turkish sources, the country’s army seems to have dropped the option of leasing some Italian Army A129s to fill the gap until the new helicopters can be delivered in 2013. TAI will be responsible for offering the T129 on the export market, with the exception of Italy and the UK, Jordan, Malaysia and Pakistan, since these are already among AgustaWestland’s potential customers.