Analysis: This is why M-346FA can benefit countries with budget deficits, LatAm on top

Leonardo M345 fighter Latin America
Leonardo M-346 LFFA (Light Fighter Family of Aircraf) CPX625.

Already well known in its Advanced Jet Trainer version, Leonardo’s M-346 represents today one of the most advanced solution available on the market to train the fighter pilots of the future. It benefits of the only operational full Live Virtual Constructive system, while the aircraft characteristics, including its Embedded Tactical Training System (ETTS) suite, target extensive downloading of flight hours from the expensive training phase carried out at Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) on twin seat fighters, with huge benefits in terms of costs. Not such a surprise that the high performance and maneuverability of the aircraft, brought Leonardo team to evolve the M-346 Master into a “family” of aircraft, where its dual role versions are capable to carry out combat roles at different level.

The most extensive development, the M-346 FA, or Fighter Attack, is conceived to be an unrivalled aircraft in terms of cost – effectiveness, able to carry out training as well as a wide range of operations tasks: it provides the operators with the most advanced technologies in both roles, and thanks to fly away price and operational costs of a trainer, its mission flexibility and exploitability make of it as a surprisingly competitive option in comparison with any other alternative.

With its seven external hard-points, the M-346FA adopts an extensive variety of air-to-air and air-ground weapons (IR, radar, laser/GPS guided and un-guided), gun, reconnaissance, target designation or electronic warfare pods, coupled with an Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) system for both pilots. It is equipped with the mechanically scanned multi-mode Grifo-M346 radar with an Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) and specifically optimized for the M-346FA, developed by the Leonardo Electronics Division. The radar revealed to be a very reliable and performing solution, with long-range detection and multiple target tracking in all scenarios, high-resolution imaging, HMD designation. A complete self-protection system (DASS – Defensive Aids Sub-System) protects the aircraft, which can benefit additionally from a “low observation” capability kit. A high-end net-centric communications suite with Secure Communications system and Tactical Data Link assures full interoperability.

Leonardo M345 fighter Latin America

The new concept of this aircraft allows M-346FA - differently from other trainers evolved as light combat aircraft – to maintain all its training characteristics, benefitting of the same Ground Based Training System and representing an affordable and versatile aircraft as a multirole combat platform. As additional benefit in terms of cost from its origin as trainer: the pilot knows how to exploit the aircraft just after the conclusion of its training process, without any particular Operational Conversion Unit passage.

Its twin-engine configuration enhances combat safety, payload, high performance, and persistence on operational scenario, this last one also thanks to Air-to-Air Refueling capability.

The M-346FA can be a full combat asset, capable to “download” from fighters a wide part of missions at a fraction of cost per flight-hour, as the only fighter in the air force inventory, streamlining to the best the frontline defence aircraft component, or downloading from a very limited first line fighter fleet, leaving highly expensive platforms only to the task where their performance is truly necessary.

The M-346FA will be delivered to its first international customer in 2021, and in LATAM attracted already the attention of countries such as Colombia and Uruguay, but is very well suited for all the countries of the area that are replacing light attack aircraft.

Due to its characteristics, it appears well suited to the Latin America scenario, where many air forces are replacing older generation fighters or light attack aircraft, such as - for example - the Cessna A-37/T-37, facing a challenging budget situation and targeting a smart and cost-effective solution: inevitable to look for less platforms, affordable and flexible, offering different capabilities. A cost effective and dual role work horse, like M-346FA, can be the right solution to perform daily air policing, air to ground and training activities, leaving expensive frontline fighters for specific high threat scenarios, assuring the highest output skill in training and saving taxpayers money. 

The Fighter Attack achieved its maiden flight on 13th of July 2020.

Written by Matteo Sanzani
Photo Credit: Leonardo

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