A new dual role version of M-346 jet trainer, a Leonardo-Finmeccanica built aircraft has been launched on the eve of the Farnborough Air Show 2016, held from July 11-17, in London, UK.
The aircraft known as the M-346FT will fly at the Farnborough Air Show on Monday and Tuesday and will be ready for service within two years, company officials were quoted as saying by Defense News at the show yesterday.
The M-346FT is capable of switching from training pilots to handling combat operations.
Apart from armaments, the aircraft will feature a new tactical datalink, but no hardware changes to the trainer, and the firm expects trainer customers Israel, Poland and Italy to order retrofits to their aircraft to render them dual role.
Leonardo-Finmeccanica said the dual role aircraft would use its five hard points to mount Homeland Security, Tactical Reconnaissance or Ground Attack missions. A RecceLite pod has already been integrated, as have new auxiliary tanks, while work is underway to integrate a Radar Warning Receiver and Chaff and Flare dispenser.
Armaments that the plane will be able to carry include the GBU-12 and -49 laser-guided bombs, GBU-38 JDAM, Lizard laser guided bomb and Small Diameter Bomb as well as a gun pod. The Iris-T is already being trialed, and the AIM 9L will be intergrated.
Some 68 M-346 trainer aircraft have been ordered to date by Italy, Singapore, Poland, and Israel — the latter of which has already flown 13,000 sorties with its aircraft. And the report said the Italian firm is also in talks with Taiwan, but the country might develop its own aircraft, based on the M-346, in cooperation with Leonardo-Finmeccanica.
The Italian firm has teamed with Raytheon to pitch the aircraft in the US TX trainer competition.
In addition, Leonardo-Finmeccanica is also developing the M345, a lower level jet trainer. Speaking at the show on Sunday, the head of the firm’s aircraft division, Filippo Bagnato, was quoted as saying that Italy would sign an order for an initial five aircraft this year, once the Italian parliament had authorized the deal.
The aircraft will likely enter service in 2018, he said, and a dual role version is being considered.
Meanwhile, the Italian Air Force ran its first air-to-air refueling mission using its M-346 trainer on the eve of the show. Two the aircraft were refueled by an Italian Air Force KC-767A aircraft.