Last week, the first Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Lavi advanced/lead-in fighter trainers were delivered to the Israeli air force, making it the third customer – after the Republic of Singapore and Italian air forces – to put the trainer into service with its advanced ground-based training system (GBTS). The Polish air force will receive its first aircraft and associated ground systems in 2016.
The M-346 represents Alenia’s higher-end of a full range of platforms covering the entire pilot-training syllabus, from the screening and primary phases on the lightweight propeller-driven SF-260TP to the basic phase, where it will introduce the relatively low-cost single-engined turbofan-powered M-345 HET (High Efficiency Trainer). The aircraft are complemented by a complete package of equipment which includes specific simulators and computer-based training devices for each aircraft.
At Farnborough this year the Finmeccanica company has aircraft on both the static line and participating in the flying display, as it looks to emphasise the complete range of its training solutions.
At the top of the tree sits the M-346. This, says Alenia, introduces trainees to fifth-generation aircraft performance and sensors, downloading training from operational conversion units on a more cost-efficient platform and providing reduced acquisition, operational and training costs.
In addition to its performance, the M-346 can be outfitted with front-line equipment such as helmet-mounted displays, night vision goggles and an air-to-air refuelling probe. Col Sergio Cavuoti is commander of the Italian air force’s 61th Wing in Galatina, where trainee pilots get their wings and undertake follow-on fighter training on the service’s MB-339A/CDs. “The new trainer will also allow the introduction of complex simulated training scenarios in real-time, using the embedded datalink or flight profile recorder pod when operating with other no-datalink equipped aircraft,” he says.
“Moreover it has advanced embedded training tactical simulation [ETTS] capabilities to allow radar/radar warning receiver and beyond-visual range weapons together with targeting pod simulation, not previously achievable with the in-service MB-339CD.”
To be known as the T-346A in Italian service, the trainer will be introduced into the air force’s syllabus from 2015. However, other air forces will have the opportunity to train their pilots on the aircraft in Italy, as the 61st Wing is already attracting students from foreign countries, and has been structured to train more overseas pilots in the coming years.
Sales of the M-346 have been reasonable. It is already operational with the Republic of Singapore air force, flying from Cazuax air base in France, where it was shown publicly for the first time during the recent 80th anniversary celebrations for the French air force.
The Israeli air force will receive a total of nine aircraft this year, plus a further 18 in 2015 and the remainder of the 30-aircraft order in 2016. Poland will also receive the first two of eight ordered aircraft, together with a GBTS, from 2016. While CAE has been system integrator for the simulators on the M-346 contracts for Italy and Singapore (the latter together with Boeing), Elbit will take over the role for Israel and Poland.
The bigger potential goal lies in the future, though, with Alenia and General Dynamics having teamed to pitch the M-346 for the US Air Force’s still undefined T-X trainer replacement programme ahead of a possible contract award in 2017.
Alenia says the ground system is not designed to be a tool to reduce costs through replacing flight hours. In fact, thanks to the integration of the ground simulator with the aircraft through its datalink, the Live Virtual Constructive (LVC) concept can be implemented. This allows networking between the three components: the aircraft (Live), the simulator (Virtual) and the ETTS (Constructive) within a distributed operating environment. The last upgrade of the ETTS, to be demonstrated during the air show, allows the student pilots to see the virtual aircraft entering their visual field though the Helmet Mounted Display.
Further down the weight range is the developmental M-345 HET, which will replace the current MB-339 platform for the basic-advanced phase of the training syllabus for military pilots.
Derived from the original SIAI Marchetti S.211A, it benefits from advances in turboshaft propulsion, the company’s experience in composite materials and the M-346’s avionics and GBTS.
It has been conceived as a “design-to-cost” and “cost-effective” solution, with significant reduction in acquisition and life-cycle costs, Alenia claims, comparable to those of a turboprop-powered trainer aircraft.
Despite being in the same weight class as turboprop-powered types and equipped with similar onboard systems, the M-345 HET is faster and allows higher performance than a turboprop, leading to a drastic reduction of “idle times” in each training mission. Within the representative flying hours the student pilot can perform a number of tasks included in the training need analysis, completing the syllabus 25% faster than with comparable aircraft.
Although the turbofan-equipped M-345 HET is expected to burn an average 30% more fuel compared with a turboprop, its performance and advanced avionics – including a digital cockpit with HUD, three 5in x 7in multi-function displays and mission computers, digital moving map, store management system and ETTS – allow extension of the basic training phase up to the introduction of air combat tactics. Alenia claims an air force can reduce the basic phase flight hours from 120 to 90. Alternatively it can be used to maintain the 120h including the introduction of tactics, thus reducing the Phase III training on the next-level advanced trainer from 70 to 50h. To further reduce operating costs, the M-345 HET has been designed with a two-level maintenance concept, higher accessibility and HUMS (Health and Usage Monitoring System), together with fuel pressure refuelling and OBOGS (On-Board Oxygen Generating System) to reduce aircraft ground maintenance needs.
Conceived to satisfy the requirements of international markets, the aircraft configuration was frozen at the end of last year by a joint Alenia and Italian air force team. In 2013, the Italy’s defence minister announced that the M-345 HET would replace the MB-339 with Italian Frecce Tricolori aerobatic team. Delivery date is currently planned for late 2017.
Alenia, meanwhile, continues to offer its evergreen SF-260 for the screening and Phase I primary training requirements. It comes in two different versions equipped with a 260hp Lycoming AEIO-540 piston engine, and a 350shp (261kW) Rolls-Royce Model 250 turboprop. The latter, fitted to the SF-260TP variant, offers higher performance particularly in hot-and-high conditions, together with a glass cockpit and more efficient air conditioning system, and a simplified GBTS.
However the latest training and industrial requirements, together with further reduced defence budgets, have prompted Alenia to look at a new solution capable of satisfying both screening and primary training. No details have yet been provided on the nascent project, including where it will be developed and whether Alenia will team with another company.