Phase 2 T129B Takes to the Skies

 - November 20, 2019, 3:35 AM
As part of the Phase 2 enhancements the T129B has new self-protection systems. (photo: Turkish Aerospace)

The Phase 2 (FAZ-2 or B2) configuration of the TAI T129 ATAK advanced attack and tactical reconnaissance helicopter made its maiden flight on November 12 from the Turkish Aerospace facilities at Mürted/Akıncı airport. The T129 ATAK is a Turkish-built derivative of the Leonardo AW129 Mangusta, in production for the Turkish Army Aviation Command and the Turkish Gendarmerie Aviation Directorate (Jandarma).

The first flight was announced by Dr. Ismail Demir, the director of the Turkish Presidency of Defence Industries (Savunma Sanayii Başkanlığı, SSB), and an SSB-branded video was released, showing an apparently newly built test aircraft with new antennas and sensors on the nose and wingtips, and carrying a slender pod under the starboard wing. The ATAK Phase 2 configuration adds an Aselsan laser warning receiver and other electronic warfare systems, including a new radar warning receiver, and a new radio frequency jammer, as well as an Aselsan 9681 V/UHF radio.

Phase 2 is also intended to increase the helicopter’s payload, allowing it to carry more weapons and self-protection systems, and indigenous content has been increased. One target was to replace the turreted gun with a locally built version. The first Phase 2 delivery is planned for mid-2020, after what Demir called intensive testing.

The original AgustaWestland T129 production license covered 50 aircraft, with 32 options. The original 2007 contract signed between Turkish Aerospace and the Undersecretariat for Defence Industries covered the production of 50 T129 ATAK helicopters in two-phases—with 29 aircraft in Phase 1 configuration, and 21 in Phase 2 configuration. Nine T129 Early Delivery Helicopters (EDH) were subsequently added to the contract. The first of three Italian-built prototypes, P1 CSX81723, flew from AgustaWestland’s facilities at Cascina Costa, on September 28, 2009, and the first Turkish assembled aircraft, P6, made its maiden flight on August 17, 2011.

The nine T129 EDHs were delivered to the Land Forces Command as T129As between April 22, 2014, and July 31, 2015. They were followed by the first T129s in Phase 1 configuration from late 2015. The Phase 1 aircraft were designated as T129Bs and are equipped with a missile warning system, countermeasures launchers, an infrared countermeasure (IRCM) system, and MXF-484 and 9651 handheld radios. They are capable of firing laser-guided rockets and missiles. Deliveries of T129Bs to the Jandarma began in April 2018.

The 29 aircraft in Phase 1 configuration were delivered as expected in the first half of 2018. The remaining 21 T129Bs were then expected to be delivered in Phase 2 configuration, but this did not happen. Turkish Aerospace has delivered a total of 53 ATAK helicopters to the security forces to date—47 to the Turkish Army Aviation Command (Türk Kara Havacilik Komutanlığı), and six to the Jandarma’s Avci Filo. The Phase 2 configuration will now presumably be incorporated by retrofitting existing T129Bs.

The Jandarma has an initial requirement for nine T129s, and six further T129B ATAKs are on order for the General Directorate of Security—Aviation Department (Emniyet Genel Müdürlüğü—Havacılık Daire Başkanlığı), better known as the Polis.