Testing that took place in Italy in coordination with the Italian Air Force shown the successful deployment of two weapon systems: the Lizard LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs) and the Mk.82 ballistic bombs. Recce and cannon pods are already integrated and fully operational, according to company sources.
Unveiled at Farnborough International Air Show in July 2016, the M-346FT is the new low-cost, multi-role variant of the basic M-346 Master AJT (Advanced Jet Trainer), one of the world’s most advanced trainers in service with the Air Forces of Italy (18 ordered jets, performing training as well as aggressors tasks), Singapore (12), Israel (30) and Poland (8)
The “FT” is intended to offer both advanced training as well as urban and battlefield close air support, tactical reconnaissance and homeland security tasks. For this reason the aircraft is going to be equipped with a TDL (Tactical Data Link) and a defensive aid subsystem, to provide SA (Situational Awareness) and self-protection; a multiband secure radio and networking suite. Leonardo is also working on one more version that would also include a radar. With such an addition, the aircraft, that could easily be converted from the trainer configuration to the light attack one, could satisfy the requirements of many air arms all around the world that are looking for tactical platforms able to carry a wide array of weapons and sensors at lower costs than the current 4th (and 5th) generation’s combat planes.
The “baseline” M-346 Master platform already offers digital cockpit, HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) commands, carefree handling, VCI (Vocal Control Inputs), a Helmet Mounted Display as well as the ability to simulate the flight characteristics of other aircraft and to replicate a wide variety of sensors and weapons as if these were actually installed on the aircraft: it’s considered one of the best LIFTs (Lead-In Fighter Trainers) to train pilots destined to the next generation aircraft, thanks to its performance and cutting-edge human-machine interface.
The “Master” is also one of the candidates to replace the Air Education and Training Command’s T-38 Talons as the next-generation U.S. Air Force training plane. Leonardo is offering a specific variant of the 346, dubbed T-100, for the competition as prime contractor. The Italian company (initially by means of its subsidiary Alenia Aermacchi) teamed up with General Dynamics, between 2013 and 2015, and with Raytheon, between 2016 and Jan. 25, 2017, to offer the T-100 for the T-X. But both U.S. company withdrew as prime contractors for the T-100 offering, leaving Leonardo without an American partner in the program where it would face the competition of some clean sheet designs, such as the Boeing T-X, as well as some modified trainers, such as the Lockheed Martin T-X, an upgraded T-50A.
On Feb. 8, 2017, Leonardo eventually announced its decision to propose the T-100 for the U.S. Air Force T-X competition, with its U.S. subsidiary DRS as the prime contractor. Leonardo DRS will be supported by CAE USA in the design and development of the T-100 Ground-Based Training System (GBTS) whereas Honeywell will provide twin F124 turbofan propulsion engines. The new T-100 aircraft is to be built at a U.S. manufacturing facility that has not been selected yet.
Poland expands the Deblin training aviation base. The Initial M-346 Master Advanced Jet Trainers are in production.
According to the media buzz around the Polish defense-related outlets, Poland is going to receive the initial two examples of the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master AJT (Advanced Jet Trainer) quite soon. As Szczepan Głuszczak, Spokesman for the General Command of the Polish Armed Forces, stated, the first two aircraft wearing the Polish roundels are already in production.
The “Master,” the Italian cousin of the Russian Yak-130 trainer (both designs share a large portion of the genotype), is going to become the backbone of the training programs pursued by the Polish Air Force, replacing the obsolete Iskra trainers.
Nonetheless, it must be noted that not only are the Poles willing to modernize their pilots training, but they are also intending to create a fifth generation fighter training facility at the Dęblin Airbase: Alenia Aermacchi representatives stated that the Polish base, along with the Italian Lecce-Galatina air base, both operating the Master, may start offering services within the scope of training for the fifth generation fighter pilots for third parties that may not be able to afford establishing a full-scale training system in the first place.
Meanwhile, according to IHS Jane’s, Poland is willing to proceed with the initiative created by the Air Force Institute of Technology (Instytut Techniczny Wojsk Lotniczych, ITWL) – the “Grot 2” aircraft.
During the conference, related to the helicopter programs in the Polish Army, Colonel Ryszard Szczepanik working as the director of the institute stated that Grot-2 initiative is to be continued with the Motor-Sich company from Ukraine, providing the track-proven engine. Initially, the jet was to be equipped with the Honeywell/ITEC F124-GA-100 powerplant, as Jane’s states. Motor-Sich’s Director, as Jane’s reports, stated that Grot-2 jet could use “the AI-222-28F design” powerplant developed at the Ivchenko/Progress design bureau, destined to be applied in the Chinese Hongdu Aviation L-15 jet trainer.
However, even though the Grot’s airframe is similar to that of Master’s, Poland considers this design to become the successor of the Su-22 Fitter attack aircraft. Nonetheless, this role is being already taken by a UAV-dedicated airbase, and partially divided between the F-16 fighters and the M-346 acquisition.
Common sense would also make us point to lack of budget, needs, and finally, the export prospects, meaning that the Grot-2 project is probably not going to happen. Secondly, most of the Polish indigenous jet designs have been unsuccessful, mainly due to the lack of a proper know-how and potential which should be possessed by the Polish industry.
Moreover, one should take it into account that IHS Jane’s bases its report on information provided by the Polish NCSS think-tank, however, it must be noted that this organization is tied to “Law and Justice” party, which has just won the election in Poland, and which is driven towards consolidation and reinforcement of the Polish armament industry. Hence, the rumours pertaining the Grot-2 programme may be just another issue, fueling the political discussion in Poland.
The Tornado fighter bomber is one of the platforms already integrated with the GBU-39 SDBs (Small Diameter Bombs).
The GBU-39 SDB is a 250-lb multipurpose, insensitive, penetrating bomb with a blast-fragmentation warhead for stationary targets.
These bombs are equipped with deployable wings for extended standoff range that open upon release allowing the GPS-guided bomb to glide for several miles before hitting the target with accuracy.
GBU-39s are quite small: they are usually carried in two pairs underneath the fuselage (on tactical jets) or on the underwing pylons (on the AC-130W that is the largest aircraft to use this kind of bomb).
Among the Lessons Learned of the Air War in Libya, there was the need to employ SDBs to improve accuracy from distance and reduce collateral damage; a GBU-39 launched at high-speed from high altitude can travel for as much as 50 miles, allowing the attack plane to remain outside the range of most SAM (Surface-to-Air Missile) batteries.
The SDB is currently integrated on the F-15E Strike Eagle, the F-22, that with software increment 3.1 is able to carry 8 GBU-39s, and the AC-130W whereas all the remaining U.S. bombers (including the F-35) will get the slender bombs in the future. The Israeli and Italian air forces have procured this kind of weapon as well, with the latter planning to integrate the SDBs on the Tornado aircraft upgraded to the enhanced RET 7 and 8 standards.
The Italian Air Force has recently begun training its first Eurofighter and Tornado pilots on the Alenia Aermacchi T-346A at Lecce airbase, in southeastern Italy.
At the beginning of September, the Italian Air Force has launched the very first training course on the T-346A (M-346 “Master”) at 61° Stormo (Wing) based at Lecce-Galatina.
The course, that started 6 months ahead of schedule, is a swing role class held by 212° Gruppo (Squadron) and attended by four Italian pilots who will convert to the Typhoon and Tornado combat fleets upon successful completion of the training, which aims to develop the information management and aircraft handling skills of future pilots before they are assigned to the OCUs (Operational Conversion Units).
The four Italian pilots will be trained for 9 months in accordance with a new “experimental syllabus” designed by the squadron’s Instructor Pilots (IPs) in the last months and currently based on 170 training events, 50 percent of those carried out in flight and the remaining 50 percent in the simulator.
In fact, with the “Master,” the training syllabus can be split 50-50 between ground and air segment: half of the flight hours is flown in the simulator and the remaining half is flown on the actual plane with a significant cost reduction. Indeed, thanks to an integrated training system (ITS), student pilots can attend ground lessons and practice the training missions in extremely realistic simulators several times before their knowledge and skills are evaluated by an IP, both at the sim and in flight.
The T-346A is a LIFT (Lead-In Fighter Trainer) with impressive performance, cutting edge human-machine interface and a lot of interesting technologies such as a full digital cockpit, HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) commands, carefree handling, VCI (Vocal Control Inputs), a Helmet Mounted Display as well as the ability to simulate the flight characteristics of other aircraft and to replicate a wide array of sensors and weapons as if these were actually installed on the aircraft.
The plane itself is just the air segment of the ITS that includes ground-based facilities, academics, simulators, and mission planning and debriefing stations developed to fill the gap between the flight schools and the operational unit and to prepare the pilots to operate Gen. 4th and 5th multirole aircraft in high-threat/high performance environments.
Indeed, while current pilots are being prepared for the Typhoon or Tornado aircraft, in the near future, courses will be aimed at training attendees destined to the F-35 Lightning II.
The nEUROn is a full-scale technological demonstrator for a UCAV developed by an industrial team led by Dassault Aviation with the collaboration of Finmeccanica-Alenia Aermacchi, Saab, Airbus Defence and Space, RUAG and HAI representing France, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Switzerland and Greece that rolled out on Jan. 20, 2012, after five years of design, development, and static testing.
During the deployment at Italian Air Force’s Decimomannu airbase, the stealth killer drone demonstrator flew 12 highly sensitive sorties to assess its low radar-cross section and low infrared signature, during missions flown at different altitudes and flight profiles and against both ground-based and air radar “threats”, using in this latter case, a Eurofighter Typhoon.
The next testing phase will see the European UCAV deploy to Vidsel Air Base, in Sweden, for more low observability tests and some live firing activity needed to validate the capability of the nEUROn to use weapons carried in the internal weapons bay.