Finmeccanica has signed a contract worth over 300 million Euros with the Italian Defence Ministry for a further nine Aermacchi M-346 (locally designated T-346) Master advanced jet training aircraft for the Italian Air Force.
‘The T-346 is already considered the flagship of operational training. The introduction of the new aircraft represents a generational leap. [It] currently has no equal in the world due to its simulation systems and also the outstanding performance of the aircraft’, so says Col Paolo Tarantino, commander of 61° Stormo. Few are better qualified to evaluate the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master — known in Italian service as the T-346A. Tarantino is a man with over 3,800 flight hours to his name, having flown revered Italian fast jets such as the G91T and the F-104-ASA Starfighter, not to mention having led the national aerobatic team, the Frecce Tricolour.
The arrival of the new T-346A has heralded a total overhaul of the Italian approach to flying training under the so-called Integrated Pilot Training System (IPTS) 2020. This has transformed the system from the award of BPM to Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training (SUPT). Until 2014 students were assigned to different ‘training lines’ for fast jets, transports, helicopters and unmanned aircraft upon their completion of Phase III. Selection and streaming to these respective roles now comes at the end of Phase II (basic training), with Phase III now crafted according to the type a student is selected to fly on the front line. The net result is that only students that are selected to fly fast jets at the end of their time at 214° Gruppo remain at Lecce for their Phase III training and the award of their BPM, before progressing to fly for a further 10 months with 61° Stormo for the Phase IV work ahead of their operational conversion unit and either the AMX, Tornado IDS or Eurofighter Typhoon.
Alenia Aermacchi jointly developed the M-346 in co-operation with the Russian aircraft manufacturer Yakovlev. The Russian company started development of the Yak-130 in 1991, but the company needed more advanced knowledge at that time and found a partner with Alenia. From 1993, both companies worked closely together and this resulted in the first flight of the Yak-130/AEM-130 in 1996. Unsolvable disputes between the two companies resulted in the end of the joint venture in 2000.
Alenia evolved the M-346 that led to a substantially modified and highly advanced jet trainer that retained almost the same appearance as the Yak-130. The M-346 is thus equipped with a full-digital cockpit, multifunction displays (MFD), hands on throttle and stick (HOTAS) controls, a head-up display (HUD) for student and instructor, voice control inputs, carefree handling and helmet-mounted display.
These capabilities are normally reserved for advanced multi-role fighter aircraft, not for trainers.
The M-346 is able to simulate the flight characteristics of, for example, the F-16 and F-35 at supersonic speeds, or the ‘switchology’ of an F/A-18 or Typhoon. Pilots can learn to make use of radar in combination with almost every type of Western air-to-air missile, or they can operate a targeting pod to work with a diversity of (laser-) guided weapons that they can ‘drop’ on static or moving ground targets. At the same time a variety of other sensors can be used. And all this, with a subsonic, unarmed M-346 that is not equipped with a radar, sensors or pods.
A newly developed version of the M-346 is currently certified for use of real weapons, including a 12.7mm gun pod, AIM-9L and IRIS-T air-to-air missiles. Air-to-ground weapon certification will follow soon.
A total of 68 M-346s orders have now been confirmed, including 18 for Italy. The Republic of Singapore Air Force ordered 12 aircraft, which have all been delivered yet and serve with 150 Squadron at the French air base of Cazaux. According to the Lecce base commander Col Paolo Tarantino, 150 Squadron is planning to make the move to Lecce in the near future so that Singapore then can make use of all the base’s facilities, including the Integrated Training System building with simulators. The AM has taken delivery of six aircraft and has three more on order. Israel ordered 30 M-346s, locally designated as Lavi. Currently, nine Lavis are at Hatzerim air base. Poland has ordered eight M-346s of which the first will be delivered — probably to Dęblin air base — in 2016.
The full version of this feature including extensive details of the M-346 appear in the March issue of Combat Aircraft:www.combataircraft.net/view_issue.asp?ID=6665