Leonardo booked an order in July for six M-346FA light fighter/attack aircraft, Leonardo SpA CEO Alessandro Profumo revealed during a press conference following the publication of the company’s 2019 first-half results on July 30. He declined to reveal the air force’s identity, noting only that it is a “major international customer.” He also said that the first export order for the M-345 basic/advanced trainer would be revealed later in the year.
Unveiled at the 2017 Paris Air Show, the M-346FA is based on the airframe of the M-346 advanced jet trainer that has been sold to Italy (designated T-346A), Israel (where it is known as the Lavi), Poland, and Singapore. It is a further evolution of the M-346FT (fighter trainer) with more weapons capability and tactical datalink added to the baseline version.
Retaining a full advanced/lead-in fighter trainer capability, the FA variant has significantly enhanced combat capability thanks to a Leonardo Grifo-346 multi-mode radar and IFF (identification friend or foe) equipment. Among the radar’s capabilities are synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and Inverse SAR for surface target identification. In track-while-scan mode it can track up to 10 aerial targets simultaneously. Maximum range is greater than 50 nm (92 km).
The aircraft has seven hardpoints for the carriage of a variety of weapons and targeting/reconnaissance pods, network-centric communications including Link 16 or customer-specific tactical datalink, and a defensive aids sub-system. Voice command and helmet-mounted display are options. It has in-flight refueling capability and includes an embedded virtual tactical training system.
Leonardo has earlier stated that the M-346FA would be certified by Armaereo, Italy’s military approvals authority by the end of next year, with service entry slated for 2021. The aircraft has been marketed to a number of nations in South America, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, including Argentina and Malaysia.
The financial results showed strong growth for Leonardo overall, with H1/2019 orders and revenue up on the figures from the first half of 2018. The helicopter division was boosted by orders from Spain for 23 NH90s and Poland for four AW101s, while the aircraft division received an order for 13 additional M-345 trainers for Italy. Deliveries of aircraft and major components were up, including a pair of C-27Js, and 18 wings for the Lockheed Martin F-35 program.