If the Raytheon/Leonardo Aircraft T-100 is selected as the winner in the US Air Force’s T-X program, the trainer jet will be assembled in the US in Meridian, Mississippi, Raytheon announced on Monday 24 October. The T-100 is based on the Leonardo Aircraft M-346 Master. Airheadsfly.com very recently flew the M-346 in Italy, with a complete report to follow soon.
“Our process determined that the best location for building the T-100 is Meridian, Mississippi,” said Rick Yuse, president of Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems. “It provides the right blend of infrastructure, proximity to our customers, government support and a talent base that’s ready for the high tech jobs critical to our success.”
Raytheon has manufactured products in Mississippi for more than three decades. The company manufactures Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars at its facility in the city of Forest.
The T-100 is put on the market as an Integrated Air Training System that is more than just an aircraft; it is a complete training solution for aspiring fighter pilots, including ground based training systems. A similar philosophy is used by Leonardo Aircraft with its M-346.
Also entering in the T-X program are Lockheed Martin and Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) with the T-50, Boeing and Saab with a newly designed jet, plus Northrop Grumman with another new design. A decision on the winner is to be announced some time in the next few years.
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.
For the first time in history the Italian Air Force has used their new Finmeccanica / FNM Aeronautics (fka Alenia Aermacchi) T-346A Masters in the final stage (Phase IV) of the Lead-in Fighter Training (LIFT).
Under the guidance of the Test and Standardization Division at Decimomannu Airbase, the 212th Group of 61 Wing (212° Gruppo / 61° Stormo) executed various missions, including air-to-ground combat, with the new advanced trainer marketed by its maker as the M-346.
Pilots flew both high and low angle mission profiles, engaged in air combat and did that with several levels of difficulties, a statement of the Aeronautica Militare reads. Combat scenarios with targets both Within Visual Range (WVR) as well as Beyond Visual Range (BVR) were tried both during intercept as well as escort missions.
Commanders of the Italian Air Force think that with the T-346A Master they can not only better prepare future pilots for Operational Conversion Training and front-line units, they also feel they can do it quicker than with the older Alenia M-339C (FT339C) the new Masters are replacing.