Analysis: M-346 for Colombian Air Force

Leonardo M346 Colombia T37 replacement
Italian Air Force T-346A advanced trainer aircraft.

With the unexpected plan to withdraw the Kfir fighter fleet by the end of the year, Colombia has shown its willingness to give a strong impetus to the modernization of its air force. In addition to the Kfir, this rejuvenation program will also include the retirement of the T-37 jet that has served the nation for over 50 years.

The T-37 entered service in Colombia in 1968 as a result of the purchase of a first batch of ten T-37Cs, followed by several other batches of second-hand T-37Bs for a total of 27 units. Over the years, the T-37C jets have been phased out and only a dozen aircraft remain operational to date. The age of its cells and engines, coupled with the growing difficulty of finding spare parts, especially cartridges for ejection seats, has compromised the operation of the type and made it increasingly expensive, leading the nation to the need to replace it as soon as possible.

The T-37 also had to overcome all the problems that weighed on the modernization program of the Embraer T-27 Tucano turboprop aircraft. The T-27 suffered from display delays and problems with the new landing gear. In addition, the cost of the works was significantly higher than expected resulting in a slowdown in the program. This led the T-37 to continue taking charge of advanced pilot training and until the beginning of 2020 it flew more hours than the Tucano, despite being older.

The Colombian Air Force uses both the T-27 and the T-37 for advanced training of pilots who have already completed basic training in the Cessna T-41 and CIAC T-90 Calima. After flying the T-27 or T-37, they switch to the Cessna A-37 or the Embraer AT-29B Super Tucano, before starting to fly the Kfir fighter.

While the obvious choice may seem to be replacing the old trainers with the Embraer Super Tucano, which has been in service with the Colombian Air Force for many years, the Service has priority to employ them in the attack role over the training role.

Furthermore, having the T-27 for the intermediate phase, the choice of a jet for the LIFT phase is certainly the most advantageous in terms of effectiveness and costs.

Although the turboprop allows student pilots to learn all the basics of aerial combat and to work with the latest generation systems, it does not have the reaction speed of a jet (neither in maneuvering nor in acceleration, for example) and cannot perform vertical aerial combat.

This is why most air forces today complete training with an advanced trainer jet. This gives new pilots the responsiveness they need to have when flying a front-line fighter aircraft. This is why Colombia has been looking to high performance trainers for some years, such as the Leonardo M-346.

Taking into consideration that the Colombian Air Force will soon also have to replace the Cessna A-37 light combat aircraft, the fighter variant of the M-346, the M-346FA, could offer great advantages in terms of fleet rationalization, as well as add further capabilities.

Since Colombia has also faced a conventional threat in recent years, in addition to asymmetric warfare, it also needs improved air defense capability. This is why the Colombian Air Force aims to introduce a LIFT aircraft that also boasts air-to-air combat capabilities in addition to air-to-ground.

The M-346FA features seven external attachment points to which a large variety of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons can be attached, as well as having modern systems, sensors and equipment, such as the Grifo multi-mode mechanical scanning radar. It is also one of the few aircraft of the type to boast air refueling ability.

The M-346 is a strongly proven aircraft, it is already in service in seven countries, including Qatar, which has recently joined the users.

Written by Matteo Sanzani

No comments

All comments related to the contents of our articles are welcome. It is not allowed to post promotional messages, links to external sites, or references to activities not related to this blog.

Powered by Blogger.