Spain may soon select Leonardo M-346 advanced trainer-light combat aircraft

Leonardo M-346 advanced trainer jet.

The M-346 advanced trainer and light combat aircraft could soon wear the livery of the Spanish Air Force thanks to the Memorando of Undestanding (MoU) signed this week between Leonardo and Airbus.

The two companies said Wednesday that they aim "to jointly approach the future integrated training systems market."

This agreement solves the main problem that Spain had in selecting the M-346, i.e. the involvement of the Spanish industry in the manufacturing of the aircraft. The Spanish aerospace giant will now be able to participate in the production of the M-346, which greatly increases the chances that the aircraft will be chosen as a replacement for the Spanish Air Force F-5BM Freedom Fighter.

"Under this collaboration, both companies will jointly address and pursue business opportunities for the provision of advanced training systems leveraging on M-346 proven experience, thanks to over 100,000 flight hours performed worldwide by the aircraft. Airbus and Leonardo will also explore deepening ties and industrial cooperation to tackle future military pilot training domains. All based on cooperation and synergies on specific platforms and programs, also in the framework of a broader European and International collaboration," the two companies said.

This agreement also marks the end of the Airbus Future Jet Trainer (AFJT) project that the company launched in 2020 to develop the replacement for the CASA C-101 and F-5BM aircraft. As we have often underlined in our previous analyzes (the first dates back to 2018), the development of a new aircraft takes too much time while Spain needs to introduce a new LIFT trainer within a few years. The retirement of the F-5 fleet is scheduled for 2030, this means that the new aircraft will have to be delivered no later than 2028.

We have suggested several times that the best solution for Airbus would have been to find an agreement with Leonardo based on the M-346.

Although Madrid has already procured the Pilatus PC-21 to replace the CASA C-101 Aviojet fleet, the Spanish Air Force also needs to introduce an aircraft capable of covering the advanced phase of pilot training, with characteristics very similar to those of fifth-generation fighters. The F-5 operates at Wing 23 which is considered a core unit by the Spanish Ministry of Defense (Currently there are 19 jets in service).

According to Madrid's requirements, the new trainer aircraft must also be able to cover the light combat role and the M-346FA variant of the Leonardo trainer can make up for this need. We therefore expect the sale of mixed M-346/M-346FA aircraft.

Written by Matteo Sanzani
Image: Leonardo

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