Vey recently Turkey has increased its order for the T129 (shown above) attack helicopter to 60 aircraft, with prime contractor Turkish Aerospace Industries to deliver nine newly ordered examples by mid-2012. When I saw this machine first time, it reminded good old Apache. Is this rotorcraft the Apache for third world countries? Well I don’t know, they might look the same, but they are not same. I am writing this post to prove myself wrong. That T-129 is not cheaper Apache, but infact it has or will have its own place in the market of attack helicopters. Before I proceed I must remind you, that it is same 129 whose prototype crashed on the afternoon of 19 March during a test flight. Early indications point to a loss of power to the tail rotor while flying at an elevation of 1,500ft (455m) near Verbania in northern Italy. AgustaWestland is to make two T129 prototypes in Italy, after which manufacture will shift to its Turkish partner TAI. TAI general director Muharrem Dortkasli says the first T129 ATAK will be handed over to the Turkish armed forces in the third quarter of 2013. Turkey will be responsible for international marketing and sales of the design, and industry sources say several countries are already evaluating the product, including Jordan and Pakistan.
The T129 is a formidable, new, highly powerful and capable all-weather day and night multi-role attack helicopter which is being developed in cooperation by AgustaWestland, Aselsan and TAI (Turkish Aerospace Industries) for Turkey and other export markets. It is based upon the AW129 and its predecessor, the battle-proven A129 Mangusta platform. High weapon payload, excellent performance for ‘hot and high’ conditions and range and endurance of up to 3 hours are enabled by state-of-the-art LHTEC-T800 engines, making the T129 a critical multi-role resource for attack and deterrent operations. Low signature and agility ensure maximum stealth, and a significant weapons payload enable the T129 to operate in the most hostile of battlefield environments as well as in confined areas typical of current military scenarios. Latest technology features include Integrated Aircraft Survivability Equipment which delivers vital survivability tools and integrated mission management utilising an advanced FLIR sighting system, Helmet Mounted Display and Mission computers. High survivability enhanced by ballistic tolerance and crashworthiness is a fundamental design feature. The T129 benefits from the high field supportability necessary for an aircraft needing to operate in remote areas with the minimum logistical support.
Both helciopters resembles closely, however, AH-64’s (shown below) main rotor blade (BERP) is its distinguishing features, Unfortunatly T-129 offers half of Apache’s Maximum Takeoff Weight (with 5,000kg) compared to Apache’s 10,000kg. Another distinguishing feature is T-129’s 5 main rotor blades. The T-129 has several key improvements over the original A129 inline with the requirements of the Turkish Army. he T-129 will carry 12 Roketsan-developed UMTAS anti-tank missiles (Turkish indigenous development similar to Hellfire II) and it will use the more powerful LHTEC T800 (CTS800-4) engine.
The AH-64 is designed to endure front-line environments and to operate during the day or night and in adverse weather using avionics, such as the Target Acquisition and Designation System, Pilot Night Vision System (TADS/PNVS), passive infrared countermeasures, GPS, and the IHADSS. The AH-64 is adaptable to numerous different roles within its context as Close Combat Attack (CCA), and has a customizable weapons loadout for the role desired.In addition to the 30-mm M230E1 Chain Gun, the Apache carries a range of external stores on its stub-wing pylons, typically a mixture of AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missiles, and Hydra 70 general-purpose unguided 70 mm (2.76 in) rockets.
Although both helicopters offers a capability to carry sidewinder and AIM-92 Stinger, what is missing from T-129 is Longbow Radar, what I consider a key to Apache operations. The lessons of the Gulf War, and the evolving battlefield air defence threat, created the context in which the digital AH-64D (Longbow Version) Apache was conceived. An optional fit to its baseline configuration is the Longbow weapon system, comprising the Northrop-Grumman (previously Westinghouse) AN/APG-78 Longbow mast mounted Fire Control Radar (FCR), and a Lockheed-Martin AN/APR-48 Radar Frequency Interferometer (RFI) package, both designed for all weather operation through precipitation and battlefield obscurants. The Longbow weapon system supports the AGM-114L active radar guided missile, operating in the same millimetric band as the radar.
The Longbow radar is a very low peak power, millimetric band system, with extremely low sidelobes by virtue of a very large relative antenna size. The low emitted power, extremely narrow pencil beam mainlobe, and undisclosed LPI modulation features provide a system with a range of the order of 10 km in clear conditions, which is near to undetectable by established RWR technology. Only a highly sensitive channelised ESM receiver with a high gain antenna and low noise receivers can reliably detect such a signal, under optimal antenna pointing conditions. The choice of millimetric band means that atmospheric water vapour and oxygen resonance losses rapidly soak up the signal, which is also out of the frequency band coverage of most RWRs. The radar will track up to 128 targets and prioritise the top 16. The radar employs both real beam mapping and Moving Target Indicator (MTI) techniques, to provide the automatic detection, tracking and non-cooperative identification of surface targets, with a secondary capability against low flying aircraft. Target identification algorithms in the radar’s software look at the shape of possible targets, and their Doppler signatures, to identify aircraft, helicopters, SPAAGs, SAM systems, tanks, AFVs, trucks and other wheeled vehicles. The capability exists to identify stationary targets through radar transparent camouflage netting and foliage. Real beam video and synthetic imagery can be displayed.
The provision of a highly automated weapon system with basic sensor fusion is unique at to the Apache Longbow, and provides clearly unprecedented lethality in comparison with helicopters using only thermal imaging sights and laser guided missiles. Such systems are limited to engaging one target at a time, unlike the Apache Longbow which can engage many targets concurrently. Howver I must mention here T-129’s advanced milimeter wave radar, claimed to be similar to Longbow and IAI/ELTA radars. Mast radar, similar to that of Apache Longbow but based on IAI/ELTA’s (Israel) surveillance and targeting radar with SAR and ISAR capability, has been added on the top of the rotor. The radar can identify land and sea targets from at least 30 kilometres. I am unsure about the technical details of T-129 radar, but there is something comparable to Longbow abilities is surprise to me.
Looking at the airbrone FLIR T-129 incorporates ASELFLIR-300T is a multi-sensor electro-optical targeting and surveillance system. ASELFLIR-300T fulfills multiple mission requirements including; Pilotage / Navigation, Surveillance, Target Search, Track, Locate and Designation. Having a flexible hardware and software design architecture, the system can be used on different platforms ranging from rotary, fixed wing and unmanned air vehicles to naval ships. Pilotage / Navigation, Surveillance, Target Search, Track, Locate and Designation. ASELFLIR-300T System includes a High Resolution Infra Red (IR) Camera, a Laser Rangefinder / Designator (LRF/D), a Laser Spot Tracker (LST), a Color TV Camera and a Color Spotter Camera. The system consists of the following Weapons Replaceable Assemblies (WRAs); Turret Unit (TU), Electronics Unit (EU), Hand Control Unit (HCU), Boresight Module (BSM).
Looking at the potential customers for T-129, it may serve well, but offers no near capabilities as Apache. With its enhanced Integrated Aircraft Survivebility Equipment, Adaptable and Asymmertic Weapon Load Capability, the rotorcraft does have a potential to become a successful machine and secure its position among world’s best attack helicopters.