Analysis: M-346FA for Italian Air Force

M-346FA Aeronautica Italian Air Force
Leonardo M-346FA (Fighter Attack).

The Italian Air Force (ITAF) has long launched the process to replace its fleet of Tornado and AMX aircraft with the modern F-35 stealth fighter in the A and B variants. Eleven Lightening IIs are already in the hands of the armed force and are fully operational at Luke AFB, USA, for the training of Italian pilots and at Amendola AFB, Italy, for the standard operational service. Although Lockheed Martin's aircraft is an ideal candidate to take on the Tornado legacy, it has operating costs that are too high to operate on a low budget like the AMX. The success of the "Ghibli" is mainly related to the excellent results it has achieved in war theaters operating at very low costs. Thanks to these good abilities, the ITAF has opted to mainly deploy the Ghibli in Afghanistan and Kuwait instead of the Tornado.

The good news is that the search for an aircraft comparable to the AMX is not very complicated as the ITAF already has in its fleet its perfect replacement, it is the M-346. The M-346 is one of the most advanced jets in its class and has very low operating costs compared to the F-35. Although the ITAF uses it mainly as a trainer, it can do much more. We think that the introduction of further M-346s in the FA (Fighter Attack) variant is the best choice for Italy as pilots and technicians already have a lot of experience in flying and maintaining the aircraft. It entered the fleet of the 61st Wing in 2012. In addition, the operational conversion of the young pilots would be quicker and easier considering that the students learn to fly the M-346 in the Phase IV of their training.

In the last 20 years the Italian AMX have mainly carried out reconnaissance and attack missions and the M-346FA can cover all these tasks thanks to the POD Reccelite and a wide range of air-to-ground missiles. Furthermore it is the only modern aircraft in its category to boast the air refueling ability and can be quickly deployed in air bases outside Europe.

The M-346FA can also guarantee low-cost use in "dual use" missions that the Italian armed forces are now often called upon to perform. Often the images taken by Italian combat aircraft are used to support the intervention of civilian rescue organizations on the ground.

The establishment of a mixed F-35/M-346FA fleet would guarantee the ITAF an excellent air supremacy, but also the opportunity to operate at low costs when it is not necessary to use a highly performing aircraft, as often happens.

Written by Matteo Sanzani

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