The Israeli Air Force now has its full complement of 30 Leonardo Finmeccanica M-346 Lavi advanced jet trainers operational. The final one has been commissioned this week.
With the new jets, the skies of Israel will be free of the Skyhawk – the legendary A-4 that was the Lavi’s predecessor after having been commissioned in the 1960s.
The commissioning of the full 30 jets – known in Italy as the Master – went with some bad mouthing on the biggest competitor: the Korean Aerospace Industries T-50 Golden Eagle. “At the end of the day, the Italian plane was better than the Korean one. We choose wisely for the Lavi,” Israel’s head of procurement of the Ministry of Defence – Shmuel Tzuker, said to The Times of Israel.
USA’s T-X program
An interesting remark, since a derivative of the T-50 is also in the running to replace the US Air Force’s Northrop T-38 Talon advanced jet fighters. This Lockheed Martin/KIA T-50A is also facing the heat of the M-346, enroled in the USA’s T-X program as the Raytheon/Leonardo Finmeccanica T-100. According to Israel the M-346 is better in quality of training, safety, maintenance, specs and costs of operation.
So far, 68 M-346 Lead-In Fighter Trainer versions have been ordered by the air forces of Italy (18), Singapore (12), Israel (30) and Poland (8). But there are new markets at the horizon.
A noticeable development which may also interest countries like Israel and Poland is the recently presented armed version of the Italian advanced trainer. At the 2016 Farnborough International Airshow Leonardo Finmeccanica showed of its M-346FT (Fighter Trainer) with light multi-role capabilities including laser guided bombs and air-to-air missiles. Airheadsfly.com already went inside deep at Lecce Airbase, aka the Master’s nest.
Leonardo Finmeccanica presented its new M-346FT (Fighter Trainer) on Sunday 10 July at the Farnborough International Airshow. The M-346FT is marketed as the multi-role version of the existing M-346 Master trainer.
According to the Italian company, the M-346FT integrates a wide range of systems and sensors for tactical support and air defence, a tactical data link, a self defence system, recognition and targeting sensors and a series of weapon systems. The PR image of the M-346FT shows the jet armed with two Laser Guided Bombs and a set of AIM-9 Sidewinder heat seeking air-to-air missiles. The image does not show any kind of additional sensor equipment, although Leonardo claims the aircraft can be equipped with such in the future.
The Aermacchi M-346 trainer version is used as a Lead-In Fighter Trainer (LIFT), preparing young fighter pilots for their final step towards high performance fighter aircraft. So far, 68 aircraft have been ordered by the air forces of Italy (18), Singapore (12), Israel (30) and Poland (8).
The last Israëli aircraft was recently delivered, while the first jet for Poland should make its very first flight soon. Poland is said to be one of the countries interested in a multi-role version of the M-346.
See our extensive coverage on the Italian-made M-346 here.
Leonardo Finmeccanica rolled out the first of eight M-346 Master trainer jets for Poland on Monday 6 June. The aircraft was unveiled at the Leonardo Finmeccanica production site in Venegono, home of all production for the M-346.
The jet wears a two tone camouflage and the emblem of Dêblin airbase below its windshield. The Polish M-346s will be based at Dêblin, where they replace the TS-11 Iskras that have been in use for many decades.
The Masters will prepare future jet pilots for F-16 operations. The first jet will now undergo a flight test program to certify bespoke systems chosen by the Polish Air Force, such as the brake parachute. It will then be delivered to Poland by the end of the year along with a second aircraft. Deliveries will be completed by November 2017.
The M-346 is a product of Alenia Aermacchi, now part of Leonardo Aircraft and part of Leonardo Finmeccanica, and so far has been ordered by the Air Forces of Italy (18), Singapore (12), Israel (30) and Poland (8) for a total of 68 orders. A follow on order from Poland seems likely.
Leonardo-Finmeccanica announced on Tuesday 24 May that Pakistan has signed a contract for an undisclosed number of AgustaWestland AW139 intermediate twin engine helicopters. They will be used as search and rescue platforms.
The contract was signed in Islamabad and is part of a Pakistani fleet renewal program spread over several batches including a logistic support and training package. The AW139s are expected in 2017.
According to Leonardo-Finmeccanica, the signing further expands the already successful presence of the AW139 helicopter in-country. A total of 11 AW139s are already in service in Pakistan, with five aircraft operated for government relief and transportation duties.
Kuwait has finally signed a contract with Finmeccanica for 28 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter aircraft, Finmeccanica reported on Tuesday 5 April. The signature was inked in Kuwait and comes after long negotiations that resulted in an bilateral agreement between the governments of Kuwait and Italy. It is Finmeccanica’s largest commercial contract ever.
Kuwait purchases 22 single seat and six two seater Typhoons for an estimated 8 billion USD. The contract includes logistics, operational support and the training of flight crews and ground personnel, which will be carried out in cooperation with the Italian Air Force. Kuwaiti pilots already receive flight training at Lecce airbase in southern Italy. The contract also provides for the upgrade of ground-based infrastructure in Kuwait which will be used for Typhoon operations.
The Typhoons for Kuwait will be the first to be equipped with the new active electronically scanned array (AESA) E-Scan radar. The radar is developed by the European EuroRADAR consortium which is led by Finmeccanica.
The aircraft will be build at Finmeccanica’s facility in Turin. The facility hosts an assembly line for Typhoon and produces parts for other Typhoon assembly lines as well. The facility so far only saw final assembly of Typhoons destined for Italy.
“This is Finmeccanica’s largest ever commercial achievement”, said Mauro Moretti, Finmeccanica CEO and General Manager. “It is an outstanding industrial success with significant benefits, not only for our company and the other Eurofighter consortium partners, but also for the entire Italian aerospace industry.”