At a press conference following publication of the company’s first half results for 2019 on 30 July, Leonardo CEO Alessandro Profumo revealed that the company received an order during July for the M-346FA light fighter/attack aircraft – and that the first order for the M-345 basic/advanced trainer would be announced later this year. The ordering nations have not been identified for either sale at this point.
First announced at the Paris Air Show in 2017, the M-346FA is derived from the M-346 advanced jet trainer, sold to Israel (where it is designated the LAVI), Poland and Singapore, as well as Italy, where it is known as the T-346A. It is a further development of the M-346FT fighter/trainer, featuring greater weapons capacity and a tactical datalink.
A Leonardo GRIFO-346 multi-mode radar, featuring synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and inverse SAR modes for surface target identification, coupled with modern identification friend or foe (IFF) equipment brings considerably enhanced combat capability to the aircraft. Maximum radar range is stated to be over 50nm and the system can track 10 airborne targets at the same time.
A variety of weapon systems and/or reconnaissance/targeting pods can be mounted on the aircraft’s seven hardpoints. A defensive aids/countermeasures subsystem is available, and helmet-mounted displays and voice command ability are also options. The aircraft, which has an in-flight refuelling capability, retains its flexibility to act as a lead-in fighter trainer through the existence of an embedded virtual tactical training facility.
Leonardo is confident that the M-346FA will receive Italian military certification by the end of 2020 and will be available to enter service from 2021. The marketing campaign has already addressed burgeoning interest in the type in Latin America (Including Argentina), the Middle East and Southeast Asia, where Malaysia is said to have expressed serious interest.