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 started the process of replacing the 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 in Amendola AFB, Italy, for the standard service. Although Lockheed Martin's aircraft is a great candidate to replace the old Tornado, it has much higher operating costs than the AMX. The success of the "Ghibli" is mainly linked to the excellent results achieved in the war theaters, operating at very low costs. This is the reason why the ITAF chose to mainly deploy the latter in Afghanistan and Kuwait instead of the Tornado.

The good news is that ITAF already includes in its fleet a modern aircraft capable of operating effectively and at low cost such as the AMX, the M-346. The M-346 is one of the most advanced jets in its class and has significantly lower operating costs than the F-35. Although the ITAF primarily uses it as a trainer, it can do a lot more. We believe that the introduction of additional 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 joined the 61st Wing fleet in 2012. Furthermore, the operational conversion of young pilots would be quicker and easier as all fighter pilots already learn to fly the M-346 during Phase IV of their training process.

Over the past 20 years the Italian AMX has 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. It is also the only modern aircraft in its class to boast aerial refueling capability and can be quickly deployed to cross-border air bases. In addition, the FA variant retains the Advanced Jet Trainer ability.

The M-346FA can also guarantee great economic benefits in the "dual use" missions that the Italian armed forces are now often called upon to carry out. Often the images taken by Italian fighters are used to support the ground operations of civilian rescuers.

The establishment of a mixed F-35/M-346FA fleet would offer the ITAF the most advanced technology available, but also the option of being able to operate at low cost when the use of a high performance aircraft is not required.

Written by Matteo Sanzani