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INDUSTRY REPORT

MANGUSTA SHARPENS ITS CLAWS


While the design of the A129 Mangusta
the Italian Armys first dedicated anti-tank
combat helicopter dates back to the late
1970s, in its latest AH-129D guise it is
a formidable performer that ensures the
types continued relevance on the modern
battlefield.
report: Massimo Baldassini and
Daniele Mattiuzzo

ESIGN OF THE A129


Mangusta (mongoose) for the
then Aviazione Leggera
dellEsercito (ALE) began in
1978, and the type made its
maiden flight on September
15, 1983. A first batch of 45 examples was
initially acquired by the Italian Army. At first
the helicopter was armed with BGM-71 TOW
(Tube-launched Optically-tracked Wireguided) anti-tank missiles and rockets of 70
and 81mm caliber.
The Mangusta made its debut in anger
between 1992 and 1994 during Operation
Restore Hope in Somalia, where one example
launched a TOW missile to destroy an Italian
vehicle that had fallen into Somali hands
during the now infamous Battle of
Checkpoint Pasta on July 2, 1993. Other

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out-of-area operations saw the type deployed


to Albania in 1997 and in Macedonia and
Kosovo between 1998 and 2000.
In 1992 Agusta completed the first A129
International version. This project formed the
basis of the A129CBT, an ad-hoc version for
the now renamed Aviazione dellEsercito
(AvEs), and born out of operational experience
acquired in Somalia. The CBT variant was
equipped with a new five-blade rotor,
replacing the original four blades of the
original A129, and a General Electric/
Lockheed Martin TM197B three-barrel 20mm
rotary cannon, produced and developed in
Italy by OtoBreda, part of the Finmeccanica
group. It retained the ability to carry containers
for 70mm or 81mm rockets. Fifteen new
A129CBTs were ordered, the first of which
was delivered in October 2002. This was

followed by the conversion of nearly all the


original 45 A129s to the same standard.
Besides the new armament, the CBT version
featured improvements to the avionics and
night flying/navigation systems, together with
new low-visibility camouflage and insignia.
The engines were the same as those in the
original A129, the Rolls-Royce Gem 2
Mk1004, manufactured under license by
Piaggio with the designation RR 1004.
Under the Mission Design Series presently in
use, the A129CBT is now designated as the
AH-129C in Italian service. There are further
sub-denominations of the various versions
within the service: the original A129 as used
in Somalia was the block G5, other versions
without the cannon were the G9A, G9B and
G11, and the basic AH-129C was the G13,
while the G15 is the AH-129C SIAP (Sistema

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AH-129D serial MM81393/EI-923 flies


low over the training area used by the
5 Reggimento AvEs Rigel, along the
Tagliamento riverbed north-east of
Casarsa. Massimo Baldassini

Integrato Auto Protezione integrated


self-defense system), the latter featuring the
introduction of laser and radar warning
systems.

Delta Mangusta

Turning now to the latest version, the


AH-129D is identified by the code G19 the
number 17, traditionally unlucky in Italy,
having been bypassed, the designations
passing directly from G15 to G19. As can be
seen, only odd numbers are used; evennumber designations are meanwhile used
internally by AgustaWestland.
Deliveries of the AH-129D commenced
recently, and at present there are five examples
of the new version available, all assigned to
the 49 Gruppo Squadroni AvEs Capricorno.
Together with the 27 Gruppo Squadroni AvEs

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Mercurio flying the UH-205A (Agusta-Bell


AB205), the 49 Gruppo Squadroni forms part
of the 5 Reggimento AvEs Rigel based at
Casarsa della Delizia, in Italys most northeasterly region.
Subject to the satisfactory training of aircrew,
it is likely that the new Mangusta will be
deployed on foreign operations towards the
end of the year. The modifications required to
produce the new configuration involve
rewiring of the airframe to support Israelimanufactured equipment provided by Rafael
Advanced Defense Systems, this work being
undertaken at Bergamo-Orio al Serio by the
personnel of the 3 Reggimento di Sostegno
Aquila.
Thanks to a phased program approved by
the Italian parliament in December 2010,
funding is available for the upgrade of two

thirds of the AH-129C fleet to Delta standard.


This requires the purchase of 32 (plus an
option for 16) observation and target
acquisition systems and a similar number of
anti-tank systems and their associated
munitions. The major changes in the new
variant are derived from the acquisition of the
new Rafael Spike-ER (Extended Range)
missile, which represents a significant
advance over the Raytheon BGM-71E TOW
2A missile previously used by the Mangusta.
Externally, the AH-129D differs via the
installation of the Toplite III turret also
supplied by Rafael. Mounted on the nose and
resulting in a new, rounded profile in this area,
the turret rotates around four axes, offering
360 in azimuth, and an elevation range of -85
to +35. The Toplite contains a forwardlooking infra-red (FLIR) sensor, a multi-

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spectral sensor, a laser rangefinder, a laser


designator, a laser spot detector/tracker, and a
day camera.
To optimize the Mangusta for operation of
the Spike, it was necessary to replace the
sighting unit. This now comprises a newgeneration tele-camera with optical and digital
zoom, guaranteeing excellent definition even
over long distances. The old system allowed a
good definition to be obtained, with some
difficulty, at ranges no greater than 6-7km.
With the new sighting unit, targets as far as
20km away can be viewed with excellent
definition. There are two types of camera: one
digital color camera offering five-times
enlargement, and a thermal camera again
providing five-times enlargement, but which
exploits variations in temperature to enable
recognition of objects or people. The resulting
thermal imagery has a resolution of 640 x 680
pixels.
The new sighting system also includes three
types of laser. One is an eye-safe laser, which
permits the gunner (who occupies the front
seat) to measure the distance between the
helicopter and the target or another reference
point, and which also offers GPS co-ordinates.
The second type is a laser designator that
enables the observed target to be handed over
to another helicopter, an aircraft, or a Joint
Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC), all via
datalink. Clearly this procedure is much faster
than that used in the past, when guidance was
provided by audio contact with the other
helicopter or the JTAC. Finally, the laser
marker is a powerful laser aimer that permits
the gunner to identify a target using an optical
ray. This optical ray is only visible through
night vision goggles (NVGs), which allow the
easy identification of a target illuminated by
the laser beam.

Revised weapons

The focal point of the new AH-129D is the


new Spike-ER missile, which is far more
advanced than the old TOW. The practical
range of the TOW was around 3.5-4km, but
the Spike can reach 8km. Above all, the sight
used on the Charlie had become dated, with
the image definition considered less than
ideal. Periodically the sights had to be sent to
the manufacturer for maintenance, and this
often resulted in the TOW having its
maximum range reduced to just 2km, forcing
the helicopter to approach closer to the target.
A Spike launcher on each wing can carry up
to four missiles. The missile is fitted with two
tele-cameras: one optical, and one infra-red.
The IR camera, like the sight, needs to be kept
cool. As a result, in the middle of the launcher
are two bottles of Argon gas. This ensures the
missiles thermal seeker, and the sight, remain
cool and function correctly.
The missile is guided via a fiber-optic wire
that the gunner can detach at any moment
after launch, using two micro-charges
positioned on the missile containers. These
charges self-activate either at a pre-determined
time after launch or when activated by the
crew. An important fact is that while with the
TOW it was only possible to send signals from
the targeting system to the missile. With the
Spike, the wires permit transmission of both
data and video from the targeting system to the
missile, and optical data from the missile to
the helicopter. Using the Spike and the new

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Top right: The revised nose turret of the


AH-129D is shown to good effect here.
Massimo Baldassini
Far right: A-129A MM81407/EI-937 in the
unusual two-tone green camouflage worn by
a few examples of the Mangusta in the early
1990s. Alessandro Zanot
Below: AH-129D serial MM81393/EI-923 is
closely followed by AH-129C MM81321/EI-908.
Note the different armament under the stub
wings and the revised nose turret as well as the
updated engine exhausts. Massimo Baldassini
Above, top: The Observation, Targeting and
Spike Weapon System (OTSWS) simulator.
Massimo Baldassini
Above: The new Spike-ER missile on a Delta
Mangusta. Massimo Baldassini

sight, the AH-129D is now able to hit a target


without actually seeing it, exploiting the
camera in the missile that transmits a visual
picture presented on a screen in the gunners
cockpit.
The missile is of the fire and forget type,
and so, if the crew is required to disengage due
to hostile fire, and therefore cut the fiber-optic
cable, the missile will continue autonomously
towards the previously acquired target.
The main difference in the cockpit when
compared to the AH-129C is the multifunction color display (MFCD) screen coupled
with two new joysticks. The previous visor,
in practice a simple tube, created some
problems, requiring the gunner to stay fixed
on what looked like a divers mask, monitoring
the images being transmitting by the cameras.
This could lead to a loss of spatial awareness,
reducing the gunners ability to see what was
going on around the helicopter. The new
screen is located well away from the gunners
head, and is sufficiently large to accurately
monitor all the information derived from the
cameras in the helicopter and on the missile. It
provides superior awareness of what is
happening on the battlefield. In a central
position are the two joysticks, which control
the armament and the vision systems. Blue
switches are linked to target acquisition, while
red switches are for the armament. It is
possible to enlarge the images passed by the
optical to the thermal cameras, to utilize the
missile camera, or to switch to laser
operations. The old sight offered up to a
maximum of 180 vision, while the new
system provides almost 310; this allows the
pilot to disengage from the target at certain
angles while keeping it in view. These
technical improvements reduce the gunners
workload, and at the same time enhance his
capabilities.

Training effort

A crew training center (Centro Formazione


Equipaggi CFE) has been established to
expedite the AH-129Ds path into front-line
service. The CFE consists of three pilots and
nine technical instructors qualified as
controllers. Reporting directly to the
commander of the regiment, the unit is
tasked with ensuring professional and
procedural standards, covering both flying

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performance and mission management.


Operational requirements for the instructors
call for currency on the RH-206C
(AB206C-1) and the AH-129C/D, tactical
operational readiness, NVG-supported
night-flying capability, and current
operational weapons validity. For the
engineers, however, the requirements are
focused on familiarity with the AH-129C/D,
including engine maintenance, electronics,
and support systems. When NVG-supported
night flying is involved, the engineers also
require approval to work on the associated
system, and the maintenance of the selfdefense suite.
Since 2006 some 194 pilots and 345
engineers have qualified on the helicopter,
activities being conducted on behalf of

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personnel from the 5 Reggimento AvEs


Rigel, 7 Reggimento AvEs Vega at
Rimini-Miramare, and the 3 Reggimento di
Sostegno Aquila at Bergamo.
Other activities performed by the CFE focus
on personnel newly assigned to the 5
Reggimento AvEs, and preparations for
AH-129C/D operations in Afghanistan on
behalf of the International Security
Assistance Force (ISAF). The Mangusta was
deployed to Herat in Afghanistan in 2007,
operating as part of Task Force Fenice,
assigned to Regional Command West. In June
2014 these helicopters passed the milestone
of 10,000 flying hours in theater.
Recently, the Casarsa base has seen the
installation of an Observation, Targeting and
Spike Weapon System (OTSWS) simulator,

composed of a cabin that faithfully


reproduces the gunners position. It offers
two scenarios: one a Middle Eastern
theater, the other a typical European
environment. The place of the pilot,
however, is taken by a technician, who
utilizes five PCs to manage the mission. A
variety of operational scenarios can be
replicated, including night missions. This
affords a saving in helicopter flying hours
while offering a simulation that is very close
to reality for the gunners.
Although the original A129 design dates
back to the late 1970s, continuous updates
have ensured that it remains operationally
valid. It is almost certain that the G19 will
not be the last iteration of this functional
machine to see Italian Army service.

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