The TAI T-129 (ATAK) is a Turkish attack helicopter project aimed at supplying the Turkish Army with a modern battlefield performer to complement its existing armored and mechanized forces. The aircraft is based on the successful Italian AgustaWestland AW129 "Mangusta" ("Mongoose") serving with the Italian Army. Despite the obvious ties to the Italian concern and its AW129 design, the T-129 program is largely an indigenous Turkish endeavor headed up by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) with AgustaWestland being retained as the prime contractor (AgustaWestland designates the T-129 as the "AW729"). Aselsan, developer of Turkish military communications and electronics systems, is also onboard as a participating project contributor. First flight of the T-129 was recorded on September 28th, 2009 with development and flight testing ongoing as of this writing (2012). It is expected that the helicopter will achieve operational service sometime in 2013 barring any unforeseen delays. The engines will be locally-produced under license as well. The end-product will also be offered up for export as TAI will hold the rights to the finalized T-129 design. Saudi Arabia is a possible future customer of the T-129 despite their stock of American Hughes AH-64 Apache attack systems already in place (the Apache holds origins dating back to the 1970s). Several other nations have indicated their interest in acquiring the TAI product and up to three prototypes have been completed to date (2012).
Unable to generate much foreign interest for its new attack helicopter requirement, Turkish authorities inked an arrangement with the Italian concern of AgustaWestland to produce an evolved form of its Agusta A129 "Mangusta International" variant that introduced several notable - and beneficial - changes. The original A129 first flew in September of 1983 and was entering frontline service with the Italian Army by the end of the decade. The design marked a milestone in European aviation as it became the first wholly-European attack helicopter to be completed and accepted for operational service. The type has since soldiered on through approximately 60 examples delivered and the helicopter has taken part in several UN-related peace-keeping missions including action in Afghanistan following the fall of the Taliban after 9-11. A few varied forms of the A129 eventually emerged and among these was the A129 "International". This variant introduced a new five-bladed main rotor assembly as well as the M197 Gatling-type cannon coupled to a chin turret. LHTEC T800 series engines were installed and avionics were modernized to compensate for the ever-changing nature of the battlefield. Support for the American Hellfire ATGM and Stinger SAM missile systems was also brought to fruition. In September of 2007, the deal between Turkey and Agusta was finalized to bring the army an evolved form of the Italian product to be developed and produced in Turkey utilizing various locally-designed systems and subsystems in accordance with Turkish Army needs. The program would fall under the local designation of "ATAK" for obvious reasons.
Once in service, the T-129 is expected to be utilized in typical "attack helicopter" roles - anti-armor sorties, armed reconnaissance/patrol, seek-and-destroy and close-air support for accompanying ground forces. Due to the nature of its combat role (low-altitude with possible ground fire exposure), the T-129 will be armored at her critical areas, reveal a low radar signature and sport increased crew survivability through its inherently crash-worthy design. Mission turn-around times and logistical requirements will be designed with minimal effort to help keep crew and aircraft armed and flying during times of war even when operating far from forward bases.
Outwardly, the T-129 will showcase many of the sharp clean lines of the original AgustaWestland product. The major physical defining feature of the T-129 will be its five-bladed main rotor over that of the four-bladed type utilized in the AW129 Mangusta design. The pilots will sit in a stepped, tandem cockpit arrangement with the primary pilot in the rear cockpit and the Weapon Systems Officer (WSO) in the front cockpit (an arrangement common to many attack helicopters today). The fuselage, therefore, is allowed a very thin forward/rear profile with the engine nacelles straddling either side of the upper fuselage. At the extreme front-end of the fuselage is the chin turret that works in conjunction with the nose-mounted optics turret mounted just above and tied to the pilot's Helmet-Mounted Display systems (HMDS). The rear pilot benefits from the raised position while both pilots enjoy relatively unfettered views from the lightly-framed cockpit. The empennage is set low in the design and houses the shaft utilized to run the tail rotor assembly which is set to the portside of the aircraft in a conventional fashion atop the vertical tail fin. A pair of horizontal tailplanes are affixed well below this vertical fin. The undercarriage is static in its design and made up of two single-wheeled main landing gear legs along the forward sides of the fuselage with a single-wheeled tail leg under the vertical tail fin. Weapons will be stored externally across "wingstubs" emanating from either side of the fuselage. In all, the T-129 will showcase much of the same qualities inherent in other dedicated attack helicopter designs of the world.
Technical specifications of the T-129 include a take-off weight of 11,023lb with a fuselage running length of 41 feet, an overall height of 11.2 feet and rotor diameter of 39 feet. Performance will be enhanced through the pairing of the LHTEC CT S800-4A turboshaft engines (produced under local-license) with FADEC capability generating 1,360 shaft horsepower each. This will allow for a maximum cruise speed of 167 miles per hour, a maximum range is listed at 560 miles and a ferry range of 620 miles. The listed maximum mission endurance time of the helicopter is three hours. The engines will power a five-bladed main rotor assembly and two-bladed tail rotor.
The aircraft is being completed with an integrated Aircraft & Mission Management System (AMMS) and will incorporated a laser range finder, laser designator, CCTV (Closed-Circuit TeleVision) and FLIR (Forward-Looking Infra-Red) into its array of onboard facilities. Each pilot will benefit from the technology inherent in their Helmet Mounted Display Systems (HMDS) that will offer night vision capability as well. Various parts of the aircraft will be covered with infra-red suppression technologies and wire cutters will ensure safety when operating in low-altitude urban environments. The helicopter will be also incorporate an ice detection system that will notify pilots of potentially fatal moisture buildup at key systems. In the event of a crash landing, there will be an integrated Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) that will work to transmit the location of the aircraft for ensuing rescue.
The T-129 cockpit will sport an Avionic Central Control Computer (ACCC) and a 4-axis Automatic Flight Control System (AFCS). Support for VHF and UHF radios will be standard as will an HF radio and IFF (Identification Friend-or-Foe) transponder. The aircraft will be connected to other participating allied battlefield elements by way of an encrypted data link system that will be capable of transmitting video feeds while onboard communications will make use of a frequency "hopping" measure and voice encryption to help counter the threat of communications interception. Cockpit systems functionality will be such that the T-129 will be able to operate in day/night conditions and through adverse weather and heavy smoke as required.
The T-129 crew will have access to an all-digital fully-modernized cockpit as each position will showcase 2 x Multi-Function Displays (MFDs) complete with a real-time moving map, systems and mission software as well as an Inertial Navigation System (INS), Global Positioning System (GPS) and Doppler navigation suite. The crew will also have access to an active/passive countmeasures package intended to protect the aircraft and pilots from inbound homing aerial threats such as surface-to-air missiles.
Armament for the T-129 will follow largely-accepted attack helicopter standards. Primary armament will be centered on the 20mm three-barreled Gatling-type cannon fitted to the fuselage chin. This will allow for relatively unobstructed engagement angles and work in conjunction with the crew's helmet mounted display for accurate, quick-response firepower while utilizing armor-piercing. Beyond this the T-129 is expected to support various foreign and indigenous anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), air-to-air missiles (ATAMs) such as the Mistral, AIM-92 Stinger or AIM-9 Sidewinder, 70mm (2.75) FFAR rockets (both guided and unguided types) and 12.7mm heavy machine gun pods. With the exception of the chin turret, all weaponry will be outfitted across the wingstubs to which each wing will showcase two hardpoints. Pylons will also be plumbed to accept external fuel tanks for increased operational ranges. The 20mm chin cannon will be afforded 500 rounds of ammunition.
It is seen that the T-129 will be produced in two distinct forms and all production will take place in Turkish plants with a standing order for sixty aircraft already on the books for the Turkish Army. The initial 30 examples (known under the designation of T-129 TUC-1 (TUC = "TUrkish Configuration")) will feature all-Turkish electronics, countermeasures, a Thales helmet-mounted cueing system and support for foreign air-to-surface/anti-tank guided missile types (AGM-114 Hellfire, BGM-71 TOW, etc...). The second batch of 30 aircraft (designation of T-129 TUC-2) will also sport Turkish-designed electronics but include a locally-developed Aselsan-brand helmet-mounted cueing system and support for Turkish-developed ordnance including the Roketsan air-to-surface anti-tank guided missile and the Roketsan Cirit laser-guided rocket.
To expedite early deliveries of the T-129, some nine examples will be manufactured in Italy by AgustaWestland and scheduled for delivery to the Turkish Army sometime in 2012. These will proceed the definitive Turkish T-129s which will arrive in time.