Analysis: data cast doubt on large-scale capability of Greece's future international flight training center

Kalamata Greece flight school M346
Israeli Air Force M346 Lavi advanced trainer jet.

In July 2020 Blog Before Flight was one of the first media outlets to post about Greece's plan to open an international flight school for military pilot training. Later, official press releases confirmed the agreement between Athens and the Israeli firm Elbit Systems to upgrade the current military flight school in Kalamata with the introduction of 10 M346 advanced trainer jets and related flight simulators and services.

The goal of the new Kalamata center is to train fighter pilots of the Greek Air Force and foreign armed forces, similarly to the well-known ITAF/Leonardo International Flight Training School (IFTS).

The training of international pilots seems to be a new trend today, we recently also talked about a similar project in Portugal. The armed forces aim to make agreements with private companies that provide for the supply and maintenance of training systems, on loan for use or leasing. This allows them to have state-of-the-art aircraft and simulators without large investments and, at the same time, secure part of the economic income deriving from the training packages offered to other nations.

However, looking at the numbers, it's hard to believe that with just 10 M346s Kalamata will be able to open the doors to foreign students [for the LIFT - Lead In Fighter Training phase]. The combat aircraft fleet of the Greek Air Force is among the largest and most varied in Europe. It includes around 230 fighters divided between F16, Mirage 2000 and Phantom. In addition, it will soon incorporate 18 Rafales and perhaps twenty F35s. This means a high number of national pilots to train. The final training phase is currently ensured by 40 older T-2C/E Buckeye jets.

To make a quick comparison, the fleet of the Italian Air Force will soon be optimized to 150 aircraft (about 90 Eurofighters and 60 F35s) and the IFTS has 22 M346s (more than double compared to the Kalamata project) to ensure the training of Italian and foreign pilots. Although Leonardo's modern M346-Integrated Training System is able to halve the number of flight hours required to train fighter pilots, 10 jets are still too few. Just look at the structure of the Israeli Air Force (IAF). With the introduction of the M346 as a replacement for the A-4H/N Skyhawk, the IAF said it had drastically reduced the flying hours required to complete the LIFT. However, its ratio is 330 fighter/30 M346. 

Let's see how the Kalamata project will evolve, however, without an increase in systems, it is unlikely that it will become an international reference point. For sure it will mark a big step forward in the pilot training of the Greek Air Force.

Written by Matteo Sanzani
Photo Credit: Leonardo

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