M-346FA in exotic color scheme, who is the customer? Here are more details

Leonardo M346 Turkmenistan Azerbaijan
Leonardo M-346 in exotic color scheme (Photo taken from the archive, published some time ago by Leonardo).

On May 28, an Italian spotter took pictures of an M-346FA aircraft flying out of the Leonardo production plant in Venegono Superiorie, northern Italy, with a rare exotic color scheme. The aircraft wore a 3-tone blue livery, very similar to that painted on the Turkmen or Azerbaijan Air Force fighters.

According to the first quarter performances published by the Italian aircraft manufacturer Leonardo on May 6, they have finalized a new important contract for the export of M-346 jets (in addition to the one known for Poland). As far as we know, the company currently has an order book for 10 M-346 jets - four are committed to the Polish Air Force and six to an undisclosed customer.

Many media outlets are convinced that Turkmenistan is the secret buyer, but we don't think so. Ashgabat recently ordered six Embraer Super Tucanos to meet pilot training and light attack needs, the same role as the M-346FA. Although the Italian aircraft offers superior performance compared to the Brazilian turboprop, we believe that Turkmenistan does not currently have enough funds to manage a multi-type fleet.

We are therefore more oriented towards Azerbaijan. On February 20, 2020, the CEO of Leonardo, Alessandro Profumo and the Minister of Defense of Azerbaijan, Zakir Hasanov, signed a Declaration of Intent to provide the Azerbaijan Air Force M-346 jet to replace the old L-39C Albatros (and most likely Sukhoi Su-25 as well).

The agreement was reached on the occasion of the visit to Italy of the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev. Negotiations for the acquisition of Leonardo's light fighter had begun in autumn 2018. "The agreement with Leonardo is really important," said Aliyev. "It will open a new page in our partnership and further modernize our defensive infrastructure, one of my government priorities."

Written by Matteo Sanzani

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