Manufacturer's studies could result in Mangustas being brought into line with export version of attack helicopter

AgustaWestland is completing studies into bringing the Italian army's A129 Mangustas into line with the export version of the attack helicopter. Agusta is at the halfway point in manufacturing 15 upgraded A129CBTs for the Italian army and has started retrofitting 45 Mangustas with an all-composite five-blade main rotor and two-blade tailrotor.

The company says it is now studying the possibility of replacing the helicopter's two Rolls-Royce Gem 1004 turboshafts with R-R/Honeywell LHTEC T800-2s and altering the weapon compatibility. Agusta says it is working on the army's future requirements based on international peacekeeping experience, but that any change would require defence ministry budgetary approval.

The 1,375shp (1,025kW) T800-2 would be combined with the A129CBT's strengthened transmission, which can absorb 25% more power, to increase the maximum take-off weight from 4,600kg to 5,100kg, says Agusta. The changes will be inexpensive to achieve, the company says. "The helicopter was made fully upgradeable from its conception 15 years ago."

The changes would bring the Italian Mangustas into line with the A129 Scorpion international variant, which has yet to win any orders. Agusta is understood to be keen to recoup some of the costs incurred in Scorpion development. The company admits that interest in the 5,000kg-class combat helicopter is limited outside Italy. "We have no export opportunities for the aircraft," adds Agusta.

The future Italian A129 could swap its Helitow weapons system based on eight Raytheon BGM-71 TOW-2A anti-armour missiles for Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. The army would prefer to retain some cheaper missiles, however, based on experience in Somalia, when TOWs were successful against armoured cars as well as tanks, the company says. Army engineers, based at Agusta's Vergiate plant near Milan, are also evaluating the Israeli Rafael NT-D Spike.

AgustaWestland is delivering one aircraft a month, with priority placed on the CBT versions, and would expect to start any re-engining and re-arming programme upon completion of all 60 aircraft, due in 2006. The A129CBT is equipped with new avionics, including a second-generation infrared vision sensor, improved self-protection suite and satellite navigation.

Source: Flight International