The first of 11 AgustaWestland A109 LOH (light observation helicopters) was handed over to the Malaysian army at the end of last year, during the country’s biennial Langkawi airshow. The start of training for (initially) five pilots began at the same time, coincidentally as an earlier contract to train Royal Malaysian Navy crews on their six new AW Super Lynx 300s came to a successful conclusion.
The Anglo-Italian helicopter manufacturer was awarded the A109 contract in late 2003, after a competitive tender to the Malaysian Ministry of Defence. The new helicopters, which are to serve with 881 Squadron in Kluang, on the west coast of the Malaysian peninsula, will primarily perform observation and reconnaissance missions. However, they will also be equipped to take on search-and-rescue, medical evacuation, troop transport and advanced training tasks. Each is equipped with forward-looking infrared, an electronic warfare suite, weapon hard-points, fast-roping fixtures, a cargo hook and an electric winch.
The LOH is a variant of the A109 LUH (light utility helicopter) currently entering service with the armed forces of South Africa and Sweden in a similarly broad range of roles. Powered by two Fadec-equipped Turbomeca Arrius 2K2s, both variants can maintain Category A performance at maximum operating weight. Malaysia’s new fleet will be supported by a new center at Kuala Lumpur’s Subang Airport.
The helicopter’s integrated mission equipment package includes day/night and IFR avionics for single- or dual-pilot operations with a four-axis digital autopilot. The cockpit is compatible with third-generation night-vision goggles and features three six- by eight-inch AMLCD multifunction displays. The avionics suite has been designed with a high level of immunity to the effects of electromagnetic interference including the high-intensity radiated fields threat typical of shipborne operations.
The aircraft can be equipped with either internal (7.62 or 12.7mm machine gun) or external armament (machine guns, rockets, missiles) carried on two 660-pound stations. Six troops can be accommodated in the cabin.
For rescue operations, an electrical rescue hoist with a 595-pound lifting capability and 246 feet of cable can be fitted on the starboard side and the large sliding door on both sides makes cabin access easy. Options include a searchlight and external loudspeakers and, if all-up weight is at a premium, lower-capacity hoists (carrying 295- or 440-pound loads) are also available.
In the advanced training role, the cabin can accommodate a central instructor’s seat, providing visibility of the whole instrument panel. The LUH can also be configured as a command and liaison station or as a data transfer platform using a microwave data link. The cabin layout enables auxiliary fuel cells to be installed, for a maximum range of about 500 nm or an endurance in excess of four hours, without reducing the available volume in the cabin.
Significantly, by removing the main rotor blades and lower fin, the helicopter can be transported inside a C-130 military transport.
The tail rotor allows a high level of controllability even in hot and high conditions, and in lateral winds of up to 50 knots. With widespread use of fail-safe design principles and system redundancy, as well as ballistic-tolerant main rotor blades, self-sealing fuel cells and the capability to cruise and even land without the tail rotor, the A109 LUH has evolved far beyond its narrow “pocket rocket” image of old.
The Malaysian army will become the first military operator of the A109 variant in Asia and the third to start operations worldwide. To date, 61 examples of the type have been ordered.
In the Royal Malaysian Navy, the primary role of the operational Lynx is anti-surface warfare, using the Sea Skua missile with which all are now fitted. During a period of tension between Malaysia and Indonesia earlier this year, one of the Navy’s Lekiu class frigates, carrying a Lynx, was deployed to the area within 24 hours.
An important secondary mission for the A109 LUHs is antipiracy operations, which is primarily why they are also fitted with a half-inch M3M cabin gun and FLIR as the primary sensor. Next in priority for the LUH is its role as a weapon platform and close-in vectoring system for antisubmarine operations and secondary roles such as helicopter delivery system and search and rescue. According to an AgustaWestland spokesman, an order for a third Lekiu frigate and an offshore patrol vessel may well herald a follow-up order for the helicopter.