Conceived in response to an Italian Army requirement of the mid-1970s, the A 129 Mangusta (Mongoose) was the first dedicated attack helicopter to be designed, built and deployed by a European country. It was also the first in the world to be built around an advanced MIL-STD 1553B digital databus, which allows a high degree of automation, considerably reducing the crew workload. The first A 129 prototype made its official maiden flight on 15 September 1983 at Cascina Costa (although it had already taken to the air twice before on 11 and 13 September).
The original Italian requirement had been for 100 Mangustas in distinct anti-tank and scout versions, but as the threat of all-out war in Europe receded, the final order was cut back to 60 A 129s. In the event, a total of 45 A 129s was delivered to AVES (Aviazone Escercito - Italian army aviation) between October 1990 and 1992, when production was stopped.
Funding problems, and changing operational needs, forced the Italian army to re-evaluate its requirement for dedicated anti-tank helicopters. The need for a more multi-role helicopter was reinforced when Mangustas were deployed on UN peacekeeping duties to Somalia between 1992 and 1994. The Mangusta's primary TOW missile armament left it inflexible where combat against tanks was not a priority mission.
Hence, Agusta has developed the Mangusta International, which features an undernose 20-mm cannon, uprated 1 362-shp (1 016-kW) AlliedSignal LHTEC CTS800-2 engines and a five-bladed main rotor system. This aircraft also retains the HeliTOW target acquisition system, making it a highly versatile combat helicopter. The Italian army began to receive Mangusta in International form in 2002 with Rolls-Royce engines. Furthemrore in 2002 Italian helicopter manufacturers were awarded a contract to upgrade all operational Mangustas to the International standard, which is also being actively marketed for export.