UAE Gives M346 a LIFT
The United Arab Emirates’ government announced at IDEX 2009 that it has selected a winner in its lead-in fighter trainer and light attack aircraft competition. The competition has been closely contested, as new options have appeared on the market, and the UAE’s planned order of up to 60 planes could provide an important sales and investment boost.
IDEX 2007 saw the shortlist announced. BAE’s Hawk already serves in this role for a number of air forces around the world, and is in service with the UAE, but their Mk128 variant was eliminated early. That left Aermacchi’s M346, a spinoff from a collaborative effort that also produced Russia’s very similar Yak-130; and Korean Aerospace’s supersonic T/A-50, designed and marketed in conjunction with Lockheed Martin…
Contracts & Key Events
Feb 24/11: Flight International reports that M346 negotiations between the UAE and Alenia Aermacchi have stopped, with no word on when they might resume. Unfortunately for KAI, this apparently does not indicate an opening for competitors, just a priority shift. Having said that:
“There have also been reports that there was a misunderstanding over the aircraft’s specifications, and that components wanted by the UAE were not included… “Political problems that are outside my domain have resulted in the delays,” says [Alenia's] Vincenzo Giangrasso… “We have discussed the technical issues with the end user, and the air force is very happy with the aircraft…” …The door appears to remain closed to KAI and the T-50, with officials from the South Korean company agreeing. “Obviously, we would love to get back into the competition and offer the T-50. But we have not had any discussions with the UAE officials about the T-50 since they picked the M-346, and we are not expecting that to change any time soon,” says a KAI official.”
Feb 23/11: IDEX 2011 is drawing to a close, with AED 11.8 billion ($3.21 billion) in contracts from the UAE alone, but still no M346 contract. Jane’s:
“This week there has been no comment on the Alenia Aermacchi M346 trainer aircraft deal announced here two years ago, but yesterday the Italian company was awarded a contract for four MB339 trainers [which also equip the UAE's aerobatic team].”
July 1/10: Defense News reports that Singapore’s government has selected Alenia Aermacchi’s M-346 as the preferred bidder in its $1.3 billion competition for 48 advanced jet trainers. The report adds that the UAE’s M346 deal remains in limbo over a side deal to develop UAVs together, which may give the T-50 an opening.
Feb 25/09: At IDEX 2009, the UAE announces that negotiations have begun for 48 M346s, including a number of aircraft that will be configured in a light attack configuration, plus flight simulators and other ground-based training systems. The order would make the UAE the aircraft’s largest customer; an Italian order for 12 aircraft was the only previous sale of this new plane.
An accompanying venture involving Mubadala Development will establish a local final assembly line for the M346, and may manufacture composite aerostructures for the civil sector. Flight International reports that the eventual contract could be worth around EUR 1 billion, with deliveries expected to begin in 2012. See also: Finmeccanica release | Arabian Aerospace.