Uruguay looks to buy new light fighter jet, Italian M-346FA is on top

Uruguay new combat aircraft M346
Uruguay looks to buy new light fighter jet, the Italian M-346FA is on top.

The Uruguayan Ministry of Defense is currently considering procuring a light fighter jet to replace the Uruguayan Air Force's old fleet of Cessna A-37 Dragonfly ground attack aircraft.

The Ministry currently has three options on the table, these include the Italian M-346FA, the Chinese L-15B and a third option to be defined between the Korean FA-50 and the Swedish Gripen C.

The nation has placed two essential conditions on the manufacturers: the aircraft must be "zero hour", brand new, and equipped with a radar - to date the UAF has never had aircraft with radar - capable of offering the ability to conduct BVR (Beyond Visual Range) missions at least.

Montevideo's preference is in favor of the M-346FA due to the aircraft's advanced embedded technology, low cost per flight hour, long life cycle of the airframe and engine. The life of the cell is estimated at approx. 8,000 hours, that of the engine at approx. 4,000 hours with TBO (Time Between Overhauls) approx. every 2,000 hours. It means having a jet with 40 years of service life with only one engine change for the entire period (considering approx. 180/200 flight hours per year).

The Ministry's plan calls for the purchase of a first batch of 6 jets, with an option for an additional 6. Furthermore, the nation is also looking at a modern turboprop that will complement the current Pilatus PC-7s in the role of trainer and COIN (COunter INsurgency).

The introduction of a modern aircraft such as the M-346 would allow the UAF to take a decisive step in its modernization. The UAF fighter fleet currently consists of the old Cessna A-37 Dragonfly which is a light jet from the 1960s equipped with outdated systems. Currently the A-37 remains in service with few air forces in the world with very high operational costs. The age of its cells and motors, coupled with the increasing complication of obtaining spare parts, especially cartridges for ejection seats, has compromised the operational capability of the type, making it increasingly expensive. Some of its users say that today it can only be flown at reduced speed, among other limitations.

Written by Matteo Sanzani
Photo Credit: Leonardo

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