On 18 June at the Paris Air Show, Leonardo presented the M-345 new trainer and the M-346FA (Fighter Attack) aircraft.
The M-345 HET (High Efficiency Trainer) has been developed for the Italian Air Force (AM – Aeronautica Militare), which had signed a first contract for five aircraft and aims at deploying a fleet of 45. Leonardo revealed it is close to breaking contracts with two additional customers, undisclosed so far, by the end of 2017. According to the company, international interest would be strong as a consequence of the unbeaten performance of the aircraft in its segment as well as of its value for money.
M-345 in its current configuration flew on 29 December 2016 and since then it has been gathering relevant data for exploring its performance and the new engine’s (Williams FJ-44-4M-34) capabilities. The first pre-series aircraft is expected to fly by the end of 2018, afterward the production line will rump up to 20 aircraft per year – therefore able of satisfying plenty of orders, as Leonardo expects. "In comparison to its competitors (high end turboprops, heavy turboprops, and basic trainer jets) the M-345 would offer superior manoeuvre performance and higher speed," the company says. Leonardo believes such features make the difference in the selection process of pilots as well as on their proficient training for cutting edge future fighter aircrafts. In particular, advanced manoeuvrability would allow an immediate screening of most proficient pilots.
Furthermore, the M-345 can play as a piece of the broader Integrated Training System Concept (ITSC), which includes the aircraft, the simulator, a mission planning and debriefing station, an instructor operating station, electronic classroom, desktop trainers, and training management information systems. Within the ITSC, the M-345 can fly simultaneously with the simulator and exchange information with it. Perhaps each pilot will see the other/s on the radar simulator as if the aircraft flew together.
The M-346FA is the latest evolution of Leonardo’s LIFT (Lead-In Fighter Trainer), and in comparison to the pure training version, the FA features the same toolbox as the FT (Fighter Trainer) presented at Farnborough 2016 (namely, designator pod, reconnaissance pod, tactical data-link, and DASS suite), and adds the GRIFO 346 pulse Doppler multimode X-band radar (a new version of the GRIFO-S). IFF interrogator, secured communications, smart armament, RCS reduction kit, ECM pod, and other sensors are available as options.
Leonardo estimates the market of light fighters would consist of some 3,000 aircraft aging at least 25 years, 1,000 of which represent the share the company can compete for.
Finally, M-345 and M-346 can operate within the same training syllabus. See sidebar.
Marco Giulio Barone