The Italian navy has used its new M-40 target drone for the first time in support of a domestic exercise. It was operated alongside the Mirach 100/5 in simulating threats that could be encountered during at-sea operations. Italy is the launch customer for the M-40 variant of Leonardo’s family of targets—a system unveiled during the Paris air show in 2017. During the exercise, the aircraft carrier Cavour and its AV-8B Harrier IIs were operated alongside the destroyer Mimbelli, with the M-40 representing threats to which the various defenses could react.
The M-40 drone benefits from a lower operating cost in comparison to competing systems, the company says, which results in forces being able to carry out more training for the same price. It essentially provides most of the performance characteristics of the Mirach 100/5 but at a lower cost, and while it can support a wide range of requirements, the cost point also makes it expendable, if required.
A commercial engine, meanwhile, reduces any potential export issues, Leonardo adds, and the design of the system does not include pyrotechnics, which allows it to be more easily stored and transported, providing easier deployment to remote training ranges. It can additionally be used in a swarm configuration of up to eight examples if radio frequency coverage permits, and benefits from carrying a radar seeker emulator that is based on Leonardo’s seeker technology that the company provides for missiles.
Leonardo operates the system on behalf of Italy on a managed services basis, something that the company is offering for other prospective customers alongside the option to buy the platform outright. “We are aware that more and more often, customers ask for comprehensive solutions,” Alberto Pietra, marketing and sales for Leonardo Electronics, told AIN. “Leonardo is constantly increasing its capability to offer 360-degree threat simulation services to meet any requirement. With the Mirach 100/5, some customers own and operate the target drones themselves, while for other customers, Leonardo own the drones and operate them as a managed service. We expect both models to also be employed for the M-40.”
Italy is currently the only customer for the target, although the company is receiving interest from current customers of the 100/5 variant, Pietra noted, adding that the development of the M-40 was in response to a requirement to do more with less by reducing operating costs, although the company still sees a market for the 100/5 target.
“The two aerial targets are complementary, because in some instances, armed forces may need the additional performance of the Mirach 100/5 to simulate the highest-performing threat systems,” Pietra explained. “Notably, because the M-40 uses the same ground control station as the Mirach 100/5, pilots need very little training to switch to the new target and armed forces can operate mixed fleets of M-40 and Mirach 100/5 drones.”
While it has been identified that the 100/5 is likely to be used less in the future as the M-40 is employed instead to simulate some of the higher-level threats, the older target is currently undergoing a mid-life upgrade to keep it relevant, Pietra noted.