The Agusta Mangusta & EuroCopter Tiger

v1.0.0 / 01 mar 03 / / public domain

* Dedicated helicopter gunships have been built all over the world. The first European contribution to the field was the Italian "A-129 Mangusta", and it is now being joined by the multinational EuroCopter "Tiger". This document provides a short history and description of the Mangusta and the Tiger.



* Through most of the 1970s, European armed forces considered obtaining a dedicated helicopter gunship, but most opted over the short run to simply arm utility helicopters.

Italy was the first European nation to build a purpose-built gunship. In 1978, the Italian Agusta company began work on a light antitank helicopter gunship for the Italian Army. The original idea was to modify the Agusta A-109 utility helicopter for this purpose, but the company quickly realized that this was asking too much of the A-109, and went to an almost completely "clean sheet" design.

The first of five prototypes of the Agusta "A-129 Mangusta (Mongoose)" helicopter gunship performed its initial official flight on 15 September 1983, and the fifth was in the air by March 1986. The successful trials led to a production order for 66 machines, though this was later trimmed to 60. After some delays, mostly due to development of the missile sighting system, the first batch of five operational machines was delivered in 1990.

* The Mangusta has a fairly typical helicopter gunship configuration: a sharklike fuselage with a conventional main-tail rotor drive configuration; tandem stepped cockpits, with the gunner in front and the pilot in back; stub wings for weapons loads, with two stores pylons per wing for a total of eight; and a nose-mounted day-night weapons sight.

The A-129 is powered by twin Rolls-Royce Gem 2 Mark 1004D turboshafts, with an emergency rating of 772 skW (1,035 SHP) each, built by Piaggio under license under the designation RR1004. The engines are separated by an armored firewall and each engine has its own fuel system, with a crossfeed to allow one engine to draw fuel from the other's fuel system. The engine installations are designed to reduce noise and infrared signature, and infrared suppressors can be fitted to the exhausts. Triple-redundant hydraulic systems are used to ensure reliability.

   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   main rotor diameter     11.9 meters         39 feet 
   tail rotor diameter     2.24 meters         7 feet 4 inches
   fuselage length         12.275 meters       40 feet 3 inches
   footprint length        14.29 meters        46 feet 11 inches
   overall height          3.35 meters         11 feet 

   empty weight            2,520 kilograms     5,575 pounds
   MTO weight              4,100 kilograms     9,040 pounds

   max speed               315 KPH             195 MPH / 180 KT 
   hover ceiling           3,705 meters        12,300 feet
   combat radius           100 kilometers      62 MI / 54 NMI
   endurance               3 hours
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   Hover ceiling is given in ground effect.
The fuselage is built mostly with composites and designed to be crashworthy, with the aircrew sitting in Martin-Baker "Helicopter Armored Crashworthy Seats Mark 1 (HACS 1)". The cockpits have flat window panels, with the window panels on the right opening for crew access. The window panels can be blown off in an emergency for a rapid escape.

The fuselage can resist hits from up to 12.7 millimeter (0.50 caliber) projectiles. The main rotor has four blades, while the tail rotor has two. The rotor blades are made of composite materials and are also designed to withstand 12.7 millimeter projectile hits, and tolerate 23 millimeter projectile hits. The blades can also chop through tree branches 15 centimeters (6 inches) thick. The rotor hubs use elastomeric bearings that do not require lubrication. The main rotor driveshaft is hollow to allow fit of a mast-mounted sight.

The fixed "taildragger" landing gear is heavily braced by shock absorbers. The stub wings can be raised 3 degrees and lowered 12 degrees from the horizontal. The initial production Mangusta has no built-in armament. Its main weapon is the American TOW wire-guided anti-tank missile, with a total capacity of up to eight TOWs on the stub pylons.

In addition, the Mangusta can carry stores such as 70 millimeter (2.75 inch) or 81 millimeter (3.18 inch) unguided rocket pods, or 7.62 millimeter, 12.7 millimeter, or 20 millimeter gun pods. A typical weapon load is a four-round TOW pack on each outer pylon, for a total of eight TOWs, and an unguided rocket or gun pod on each inner pylon. Maximum weapons load is 1,200 kilograms (2,645 pounds).

An Augusta-Harris digital "Integrated Multiplex System (IMS)", controlled by two computers and linked by a MIL-STD 1553B databus, integrates and provides commands and status for rotorcraft avionics, hydraulic and fuel systems, engine systems, and weapon systems. The IMS computer can store up to a hundred waypoints or ten flight plans, and works in conjunction with a continuous-wave Doppler radar altimeter for low-level flight navigation.

The crew control panels are based on color multifunction displays (MFDs) that provide flight and system status, as well as map information. Targeting is performed through a sighting system in the nose, original plans for a mast-mounted sight having been abandoned due to cost constraints. The sighting system includes an optical sight, a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sight, and a laser rangefinder / target designator. The pilot uses a wide-angle FLIR mounted above the nose to fly at night and in bad weather.



* The 16th production Mangusta introduced folding main rotor blades; auxiliary fuel tanks; cockpit lighting compatible with modern night vision goggles (NVGs); secure communications; radar and laser warning systems, along with radar and infrared jammers and chaff-flare dispensers; and improved software.

Manufacture was halted in 1992 after delivery of 45 production machines. With the end of the Cold War the Italian Army wanted to reassess their requirements. However, even at the time the Italians were beginning to realize that the "new world order" wasn't going to be exactly a case of "peace breaking out all over". Instead of one big threat, Western military forces now had to deal with a bewildering range of smaller threats.

Three A-129s were committed to the intervention in Somalia from late 1992 to the spring of 1994. The Italians had a personal interest in Somalia, as the place had once been part of Italy's colonial empire. The Mangustas flew armed reconnaissance sorties for UN forces, and were armed with TOW missiles and 81-millimeter unguided rockets. Four more A-129s later operated off the carrier GARIBALDI in the embarrassing final withdrawal of Western forces from Somalia in early 1995.

The intervention demonstrated that the Mangusta was reliable and maintainable under difficult field conditions, but also underlined the fact that the Mangusta's original operational role, that of tankbuster, was not realistic for peacekeeping operations. The A-129 definitely needed a gun, since nailing a sniper with a TOW was expensive, if very effective. Other items that proved desireable included a video-recorder capability for scout missions, a Global Position System / Inertial Guidance System (GPS-INS), and sand filters.

The A-129 was also committed to peacekeeping operations in Albania following the country's economic and civil collapse in 1997. The Mangustas carried FN-Herstal HMP-50 12.7 millimeter gun pods and were fitted with countermeasures, including infrared exhaust suppressors and an infrared jammer. Mangusta service in that intervention appears to have been mostly uneventful.

* Even before the Mangusta's service in Somalia, Agusta had been considering improvements for the A-129, with an an eye towards selling the machine on the export market.

In 1986, the governments of Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to investigate an improved version of the A-129, named the "Joint European Helicopter Tonal", where "Tonal" is the name of an Aztec deity. The Tonal was to feature more powerful engines, a new rotor system, retractable landing gear, improved sensors, and more powerful armament. However, the UK and the Netherlands backed out the project in 1990 when they decided to obtain the US AH-64 Apache gunship instead, and the Tonal project collapsed.

This was a disappointment, but Agusta didn't give up, flying a series of modifications with various improvements for possible export sales. In 1988, an evaluation machine was flown with two Allison-Garrett LHTEC T800 turboshafts, with 894 skW (1,200 SHP) each, full-authority digital engine controls (FADEC), and an uprated power transmission to handle the greater power. In 1992, the same machine was fitted with a nose turret with a single-barrel Lucas 12.7 millimeter (0.50 caliber) machine gun.

This evolution led to the initial flight of the more-or-less definitive "A-129 International" on 9 January 1995. This revision features LT800 turboshafts and a nose turret, though the turret is built by OtoBreda and carried a Alenia Difensa TM-197B 20 millimeter cannon, a license-built version of the General Electric (now Lockheed Martin) M197 three-barreled Gatling-type gun.

The A-129 International also features a distinctive five-bladed "Penta" rotor, substantially greater internal fuel capacity, improved avionics, and a "glass cockpit". It has been qualified to carry the US-built AGM-114L Hellfire antitank missile along with TOW, plus the US-built Stinger air-to-air missile (AAM). The Hellfire was considered early in the Mangusta development program but had originally been rejected, since with its substantially higher capability also comes a substantially greater price. Agusta also considered qualification of the French Matra Mistral AAM, but decided to focus on the Stinger.

Most of the improved avionics were not actually fitted in the demonstrator, partly because some of it hadn't been selected and partly because some of it was expected to be defined by customers. However, in principle the new avionics was to include an upgraded navigation system built around a Litton GPS-INS unit; a new, more powerful main computer with modernized software; improved FLIR and targeting system with a CCD camera replacing the direct optics; and a self-defense suite. The glass cockpit includes two 15 by 20 centimeter (6 by 8 inch) color multifunction displays (MFDs) built by Alenia.

* So far, Agusta has not scored any export successes with the A-129 International, but Italian Army was interested in many of its features. The service decided to adopt a major subset of those features in a new Mangusta variant, the "A-129 CBT (Combattimento)". The A-129 CBT includes the five-blade rotor, the nose turret, most of the advanced avionics, and support of Hellfire and Stinger from the A-129 International. The A-129 CBT does retain the Gem turboshafts, though an uprated transmission is fitted, and apparently the cockpit layout is simpler than that of the A-129 International.

As mentioned, only 45 of the original 60 Mangustas planned by the Italian Army had been built into the early 1990s. In 1999, the service placed an order for the remaining 15, to be built to A-129 CBT standard. In late 2001, another contract was awarded to Agusta to upgrade all surviving A-129s to the CBT specification. The first CBT was handed over to the Italian Army in the fall of 2002.

* Agusta has also proposed a navalized Mangusta, known as the "A-129 Antiship" and referred to as the "Gannet" in some sources, with nose-mounted radar; an Elettronica "electronic support measures (ESM / emitter targeting)" system; chaff dispeners; and armament including antiship missiles, such as two Marte 2s or four Sea Skuas. Another proposal is for an "A-139" utility transport derivative with a capacity of ten passengers. Neither of these proposals reached the prototype stage.



* In the early 1980s the German Army wanted to obtain a second generation antitank helicopter, formalized in the "PanzerAbwehr Hubschrauber 2 (PAH-2)" specification. The French Army was also seeking a new antitank helicopter under the "Helicoptere Anti-Char (HAC)" specification, and so the two countries decided to collaborate, signing an MoU in 1984.

As is not unusual in collaborative defense efforts the program ran into a few snags, and in fact it was halted completely in mid-1986 to be completely reconsidered. It was re-initiated in March 1987, with the revised program envisioning construction of the PAH-2 / HAC antitank variant for both Germany and France, and an escort version, the "Helicoptere d'Appui Protection (HAP)" for the French.

Full-scale development got the green light at the end of 1987. A development contract specifying construction of five prototypes of the "Tiger" or "Tigre", as the gunship was named, was was finally awarded on 30 November 1989 to EuroCopter GMBH, a joint company that had formed by Aerospatiale of France and MBB of Germany in 1985 to pursue the program. EuroCopter would later take over all the helicopter activities of both parent firms, which in turn became major parts of the European Aeronautics Defense & Space (EADS) conglomerate.

During this development phase, the Germans considered obtaining a close-support variant of the Tiger, designated the "Unterstuetzungs Hubschrauber (UHU)", along with the PAH-2 antitank variant, but finally decided to acquire a multirole variant for the antitank, close support, and escort roles. This multirole machine was designated the "Unterstuetzungs Hubschrauber Tiger (UHT)".

The French stayed with their HAC and HAP configurations. As if this name game weren't bewildering enough, for a time the French also referred to the HAP as the "Gerfaut", but the name was formally abandoned in 1993, probably because it was confusing, and now all the variants are known as "Tigers".

* The first Tiger prototype flew on 27 April 1991. The second prototype followed in April 1993, with the three remaining prototypes following in November 1993, December 1994, and February 1996. The first three machines were basically aerodynamic and system test machines, but the fourth was the French HAP configuration prototype and the fifth was the German UHT configuration prototype.

The first prototype was grounded for static fatigue testing in early 1996. The second prototype was brought up to HAP configuration in 1996, and the third prototype was brought up to UHT configuration in 1997. The fourth prototype was lost in a crash in Australia in early 1998 while being evaluated by the Australian Army.

The Tiger is of conventional helicopter gunship configuration, with the two crew sitting in tandem, though somewhat unusually the pilot is in the front seat and the gunner is in the back. The seats are offset to opposite sides of the centerline to improve the view forward for the gunner in back. The airframe is largely made of composites.

Both cockpits have twin color multifunction displays (MFDs), which show sensor imagery, flight and system status, and a "Eurogrid" moving-map display. The Tiger is fitted with a GPS-INS navigation system with ring-laser gyros, has continuous-wave Doppler radar for low-altitude operation, and a set of low-speed air-data probes.

Several processors support the display and navigation systems Avionics systems are linked by a MIL-STD 1553B databus. A self-defense suite will be fitted, featuring radar, missile, and laser warning systems, as well as chaff-flare dispensers.

The Tiger is powered by twin Rolls-Royce / Turbomeca MTR 390 turboshaft engines providing 958 skW (1,285 SHP) each, driving a four-blade main rotor and a three-blade tail rotor. The Tiger has fixed taildragger landing gear with single wheels, a horizontal tailplane with fixed endplates, and stub wings with a total of four stores pylons.

   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   main rotor diameter     13.0 meters         42 feet 8 inches
   tail rotor diameter     2.7 meters          8 feet 10 inches
   fuselage length         14 meters           45 feet 11 inches
   footprint length        15.8 meters         51 feet 10 inches
   height (tail rotor)     4.32 meters         14 feet 2 inches
   height (rotor head)     5.2 meters          17 feet 1 inch

   empty weight            3,060 kilograms     6,747 pounds
   max loaded weight       6,000 kilograms     13,227 pounds

   maximum speed           320 KPH             200 MPH / 174 KT
   hover ceiling           2,000 meters        6,560 feet
   range                   725 kilometers      450 MI / 390 NMI
   endurance               > 3 hours
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   Hover ceiling is out of ground effect.
The three different Tiger variants have the same basic airframe, but differ in sensors and armament:

* The initial production contract was signed on 20 June 1997. The first production machine, a German UHT variant, was rolled out in March 2002. The first French HAP escort variant is expected to be handed over in the summer of 2003. The French HAC Tigre antitank variant will begin deliveries in 2011.

Germany has long-range plans to acquire 212 Tigers, while France plans to buy 215. Each country has currently funded 80 machines, with the Germans buying 80 UHTs, while the French are buying 70 HAPs and 10 HACs.

It is not believed that the full total planned will be purchased, as defense requirements have changed since the machine's development was put into motion. At present, the long-range plan will probably result in the manufacture of a total of 120 Tigers each for France and Germany, for a total of 240. The Tigers will be an important element of Europe's joint reaction force, now being organized.

* Australia is the first export customer, having ordered 22 "Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters (ARH)" or "Aussie Tigers" in December 2001 after a tough international competition. The Australian variant will be fitted with US Hellfire antitank missiles, and so the Strix sighting system will incorporate a laser target designator to target the missiles. The Tiger ARH will also be fitted with an uprated MTR 390 powerplant for "hot and high" operation, and will feature minor changes to avionics, such as radios specified to Australian Army needs.

EuroCopter has developed an export configuration for the Tiger, designated "HAD", similar to the Aussie Tiger and featuring a 30 millimeter cannon turret; external stores including antitank missiles, AAMS, and unguided rocket pods; and a new roof mounted sight.



* Sources include:

Data pages on the FLUG REVUE website were also consulted.

* Revision history:

   v1.0.0 / 01 mar 03 / gvg