M-346FA Gets Rafael's Advanced Targeting, Recon Systems

 - May 6, 2020, 9:57 AM
Seen here armed with laser-guided bombs and Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, the M-346FA has a Grifo multi-mode radar. (Photo: Leonardo)

Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems has announced that its Litening-5 and RecceLite podded systems are to equip the Leonardo M-346FA light fighter/attack aircraft in the first integration of fifth-generation podded electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) systems to the aircraft. Guy Oren, v-p and head of the company's electro-optical systems directorate, remarked that “This new cooperation with Leonardo opens new markets to integrate our advanced systems to additional light, cost-effective platforms, based on our vast experience and integration legacy in all domains.”

Leonardo has produced the M-346FA version of its advanced trainer to undertake a range of combat roles, including air-to-air, air-to-surface, and tactical reconnaissance, as well as lead-in fighter and weapons training. It was unveiled at the 2017 Paris airshow and received its first order from an undisclosed customer in July 2019.

The aircraft comes equipped with a Leonardo Grifo-346 multi-mode radar, and the addition of sophisticated targeting and reconnaissance pods to the aircraft significantly expand its operational capabilities. “We see a growing number of nations that have requirements for trainers that are also able to perform close-air-support missions, and the addition of Rafael's globally combat-proven fifth-gen targeting and ISR pods is a significant, force-multiplying enhancement to our platform,” said Emanuele Merlo, senior v-p trainers of Leonardo’s aircraft division.

Litening-5 is the latest iteration of a targeting pod that currently serves with 27 air arms on more than 25 aircraft types. It has amassed more than 2 million flight hours, with the majority being conducted under operational conditions. The multi-spectral system has high-resolution sensors delivering high-quality imagery in daylight color and FLIR/SWIR (forward-looking/short-wave infrared) channels to give standoff targeting capability for laser-, GPS- and electro-optical/infrared-guided weapons.

Operated by 13 customers and flying on a number of fighter types, the RecceLite is based around the same FLIR/SWIR sensor as the Litening-5 but has a different day camera that operates in both visible and near-infrared channels. It also operates as a “step and stare” system rather than as a video. The pod houses C-band and Ku-band datalinks to relay gathered imagery, and to permit ground stations to re-program its systems in flight. RecceLite incorporates artificial intelligence and automatic target recognition features. Both it and the Litening-5 pod are also able to incorporate a small Elta synthetic aperture radar (SAR) to enhance their capabilities.

Litening-5 RecceLite
Litening-5 (top) and RecceLite (bottom) pods. (Photos: Rafael)