Italy Orders M346 Jet Trainers
At the 2009 Le Bourget air show, Alenia Aeronautica announced a long-awaited contract to sell its new M346 Master advanced trainer jet to the Italian Air Force. This initial agreement covers 6 jets and an integrated training service, with an option for another 9 aircraft.
Alenia’s M346 advanced trainer and light attack jet began life in 1993, as a collaboration with Russia. It was also something of a breakthrough for Alenia Aermacchi, confirming that the Finmeccanica subsidiary could autonomously design and manufacture advanced aircraft with full authority quadriplex Fly-by-Wire controls. Those controls, the aircraft’s design for vortex lift aerodynamics, and a thrust:weight ratio of nearly 1:1 from its Fiat Avio/Honeywell ITEC F124-GA-200 turbofans, allow it to remain fully controllable even at angles of attack over 35 degrees. This is useful for simulating the capabilities of advanced 4+ generation fighters like the F/A-18 Super Hornet, Eurofighter, and Rafale. Not to mention Sukhoi’s SU-30 family, which has made a name for itself at international air shows with remarkable nose-high maneuvers.
The Russian collaboration didn’t last. For a while, it looked like the Italian jet might not last, either. Now, it finally has its first confirmed contract…
Italy’s M-346: Fast Plane, Slow Aerospace
The partners eventually went their separate ways, and Russia’s Yak-130 went on to limited initial success. It uses Russian equipment, avionics, radar, and weapons, and is powered by a pair of AI-222-25 or Povazske Strojarne DV-2SM (export option) turbofans. By 2006 the aircraft had beaten the MiG-AT and Sukhoi’s S-54 to be selected as Russia’s next advanced jet trainer, bagged an export order from Algeria as a trainer and light attack aircraft, and received interest from several additional customers.
Despite serious development work since 2000, and aid from the Italian Ministry for Economic Development, by the end of 2008, Alenia’s M346 had no confirmed customers at all.
Finmeccanica’s first breakthrough came at IDEX 2009, when the UAE selected it for a 48-plane order. That deal is still in negotiations, but is estimated to be worth about EUR 1 billion. The Italian Defence Ministry was heavily involved in supporting the M346 Master’s UAE bid, and Alenia Aermacchi states that their plane is seeking potential orders in Singapore (reportedly short-listed), Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Ecuador, Qatar, Greece and Chile.
The Italian Aeronautica Militare announced the plane’s first confirmed contract in November 2009, and their current trainer fleet of 102 MB-339s offers room for future M-346 sales beyond the initial 15. At present, only 30 of their existing trainers have been modernized to the MB-339CD variant.
Italy’s M-346: Contracts and Key Events
June 20/11: The Italian General Directorate for Aeronautical Armaments of the Ministry of Defense issues the M-346 a military type certificate, a critical step in customer acceptance of any new aircraft. The Italian Air Force will now begin the acceptance procedure for its first 2 “T-346A” aircraft, which have already been delivered.
Certifications take longer than most people appreciate. In order to complete the military type certification process, the M-346 program made 180 flights, totaling 200 hours, over the past 5 months, with over 3,300 Test points were completed. defpro.
Dec 21/10: Alenia Aermacchi unveils the first 2 M-346 advanced trainers from Italy’s first batch of 6 aircraft, in a ceremony at Venegono Superiore. These 2 planes will eventually be delivered to the Experimental Flying Unit at Pratica di Mare Air Force Base, near Rome, for operational evaluation testing. During 2011 the Italian Air Force will receive the other 4 aircraft, which are already under construction at the Venegono Superiore factory. Alenia Aermacchi.
Nov 12/09: Finmeccanica subsidiary SELEX Galileo discusses [PDF] its own participation in the M-346 program. Much of their work revolves around the plane’s Mission Core System (MCS), which includes a Mission Computer (MCSG) hosting the operational flight program, a “glass” (digital) cockpit with 6 AMLCD 5″x5″ smart multi-functional displays, and 2 HUD-100 Head Up Displays. The M-346 Mission Core System manages the databus and some communications links, symbology generation for displays, sensor data collection and Tactical Data Base management; and EICAS “Crew Alerting” control.
SELEX Galileo will do extensive work on the Ground Based Training System alongside CAE. SELEX Galileo will deliver the Instructor Operating Station (IOS) – a high-fidelity replica of the M-346 Cockpit, modeling and simulating the Avionics and most of the Aircraft Systems. Production will be carried out mainly at the Group’s sites in Pomezia (Rome), Nerviano (Milan), and Ronchi dei Legionari (Trieste).
Nov 10/09: Finmeccanica subsidiary Alenia Aermacchi and the Italian government’s ARMAEREO (Direzione Generale per gli Armamenti Aeronautici) sign a EUR 220 million (about $327 million) contract to provide the Italian Air Force with 6 Integrated Training Systems (ITS). This includes 6 T-346A Master advanced trainer aircraft, related flight simulators, logistics support, training for military personnel to include construction of multimedia training rooms, and a new flight line for the M-346 Master to be built at the Lecce Flying School along, with a hangar and maintenance services.
This contract forms part of a broader agreement to supply a total of 15 aircraft and related support. The first 2 aircraft are scheduled for delivery by the end of 2010, and will be initially assigned for testing and procedures workups to the Flight Testing Department at Pratica di Mare air base. The Italian Air Force will receive 4 more aircraft by the end of 2011, making them the world’s first Air Force to have a training line based on the M-346 Master. Finmecanica.
June 18/09: At the 2009 Le Bourget air show, Alenia Aeronautica announces [PDF] that Italy’s Air Force has signed a long-awaited contract to buy Alenia’s new M346 Master advanced trainer jet. This initial agreement covers 6 jets and an integrated training service, with an option for another 9 aircraft.
Not so coincidentally, the Italian agreement also includes a series of joint initiatives between Alenia Aermacchi and the Italian Air Force to develop international training support capabilities for the Air Forces of other countries through flight simulators, GBTS (Ground Based Training System) and integrated logistics. Canada’s CAE is currently executing a simulator contract for the M346, and can be expected to be part of that solution.
Dec 18/08: Alenia Aermacchi announces that an M-346 advanced trainer test aircraft has flown at supersonic speed, making it the first Italian-designed aircraft to do so in 52 years. The aircraft reached Mach 1.15 in the “supersonic corridor” off the Italian Riviera coast, during a 75 minute flight which began and ended on the company airfield at Venegono Superiore.
The release does not say that the speed wasa achieved in level flight, but it does add that test activities will continue until the top design speed of Mach 1.2 is reached. It adds that the M-346 will now be officially known as Master, the winning entry in Alenia’s international contest.
- Aermacchi – M-346
- Alenia North America – M-346 Advanced Jet Trainer. Being offered in conjunction with Boeing as an eventual replacement to Northrop’s T-38 Talon.
- Air Force Technology – M-346 Master Advanced Fighter Trainer, Italy
- Wikipedia – Alenia Aermacchi M-346
- Air Force Technology – Yak-130 Combat Trainer, Russia
- Teal Group’s Richard Aboulafia – October 2009 letter. Discusses Italy’s “slow aerospace” industrial model counterpart to the “slow food” movement.