Introducing the T129 ATAK: Turkey’s Indigenous A129 Mangusta Attack Helicopter

The T129 ATAK is a derivative of the A129 Mangusta of the Italian Air Force, specially adapted for use by the Turkish military in the Middle East. During recent clashes in various regions, it has proven to be a powerful and large-scale force, supporting ground troops and conducting reconnaissance missions in collaboration with fighter aircraft. According to international news agencies, during attacks from late February 2020 to the present day, the Turkish Air Force has supported jihadist groups in carrying out a series of air strikes on a number of positions of pro-Syrian forces in Idlib. Local military sources say that the Turkish helicopter attacks had left around 34 civilians dead and over 100 others injured.

 

The Turkish Air Force’s use of the T129 helicopter has been particularly effective in the Syrian battlefield. This type of helicopter possesses an attack power that surpasses that of any other attack helicopter. In some situations, it even outperforms copter fleets from Russia and the United States. Observers suggest that the deployment of T-129 helicopters to the Syrian battlefield is thought to create an additional advantage in the battlefield.

 

The T129 ATAK is essentially a developed version of the A129 Mangusta of the Italian Air Force. The ATAK program was initiated in 2007, and the Turkish Aerospace Industries have collaborated to develop an attack and tactical reconnaissance helicopter that meets the requirements of the Turkish Armed Forces. The helicopter is equipped with state-of-the-art intelligence systems, avionics, weapons systems, self-protection suites, and helmet-mounted targeting systems.

The aircraft’s avionics, weapon systems, and other components are based on the proven A129 predecessor. The first flight took place in September 2009 and was officially introduced to the public in 2014. To date, 59 aircraft have been produced at an estimated price of $3.2 million each. The helicopter is optimized for hot and high conditions, rugged geography both during the day and night. Compared to the original A129, it also has some significant improvements to meet the requirements of the Turkish Army.

 

Design

Basically, the exterior design of the T129 retains many sharp lines of the original AgustaWestland prototype. It is much smaller and lighter than contemporary attack helicopters like the US AH-64 or Russian Mi-24. The maximum take-off weight of T129 is only 5 tons, with a length of 13.45m, a height of 3.4m, and a rotor diameter of 11.9m.

Like other common attack helicopters, the T129 cockpit is designed for a crew of two, seated in tandem. The weapons officer sits in the front cockpit, and the pilot in the rear, slightly higher. The fuselage of the T129 is very angular and armored for ballistic protection, and the composite rotor blades are also able to withstand hits from 23mm cannon fire. There is a mid-mounted five-bladed main rotor and a two-bladed tail rotor at the rear. The landing gear is fixed, with two single-wheeled main landing gear legs along the forward sides of the fuselage and a single-wheeled tail leg under the rear. Overall, the T-129 inherits many of the same qualities inherent in other specialized attack helicopter designs of the world.

Powerplant

Power is provided by a pair of LHTEC CTS800-4A turboshaft engines, delivering 1,361 horsepower each, much stronger than the original A129. The engines have been designed to incorporate improved heat signature reduction measures. The helicopter can reach a maximum speed of 278 km/h, with a stable cruise speed of 269 km/h.

Armament

Weapons will be stored externally on either side of the fuselage. A total of four hardpoints, the total weaponry payload that the T129 can accommodate is 1.2 tons. It could include anti-tank guided missiles, air-to-air missiles, and 70mm guided rockets. In addition, a 20mm three-barreled gun mounted on the nose turret would be an additional firepower needed.

Electronic Systems

One of the key protective measures incorporated into the T129 is the electronic warfare suite, including active and passive countermeasures systems such as the countermeasures dispensing system, a missile warning system, laser warning system, radio frequency jammer, radar warning receiver, and infrared countermeasures. The digital cockpit of the T129 incorporates two color multifunction displays, keyboard display unit, Avionic Central Computer, and a four-axis automatic flight control system. It allows to fire anti-tank guided missiles in fire-and-forget mode.

Upgrade

The latest upgraded version of the T129 helicopter is ATAK FAZ-2. Turkey recently announced that it had successfully conducted its first flight for FAZ-2 on November 13, 2019. New equipment has been integrated into the new helicopter, including electronic warfare systems and some upgrades in radar warning devices. Other basic parameters of the T129 ATAK remain the same in the ATAK FAZ-2.

 

Potential

Consider the role of the Turkish defense industry, and the T129 has garnered the attention of countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Notably, Pakistan has ordered 20 aircraft, while the Philippines has ordered 10. The trouble relates to the acquisition of S-400 air defense missile systems from Russia, which affected the prospects of the T129. Turkey’s Ahval site reported that, due to the purchase of Russia’s S-400 Triumph air defense missile systems, Ankara had several problems with several major British and American military partners.

 

Specifically, the United Kingdom has refused to provide engines to equip the T129 attack helicopters. The first consequence of this situation is that Turkey cannot complete the contract for Pakistan. In the long run, there is the bankruptcy of a large-scale weapons program. The UK did not give a reason for stopping the supply of helicopter engines, but it appears that London is working closely with Washington to put pressure on Ankara. Turkey may choose to buy Ukrainian engines instead, but it is difficult for them because the Kyiv government will have to look at the American face to decide. With the latest sanctions, the US has shown it can do a lot to Turkey, not just with the F-35 stealth fighter but also many other weapons.

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