IN FOCUS: Training a new generation

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In a world of reduced defence budgets, air forces are looking to new platforms and training syllabi for young pilots that can reduce costs while improving skills. Alenia Aermacchi believes it has the solution with its M-346 advanced/lead-in fighter trainer and the recently-launched M-345 HET basic/advanced trainer.

To cope with modern training requirements – including provision of jet experience, plus the ability to provide trainees with experience of high-speed manoeuvring and low-level sustained speeds greater than Mach 0.55 – Alenia Aermacchi this year annnounced the M-345 HET (High Efficiency Trainer).

Developed from the SIAI Marchetti S-211 that first flew in 1981 and its more powerful M-311 successor, the M-345 HET aims to offer a state-of-the-art lightweight turbofan-powered basic/advanced trainer, with reduced acquisition and lifecycle costs, providing a student with jet experience but with the price of “heavyweight turboprops”, according to Enrico Mariotto, Alenia Aermacchi’s head of training systems sales engineering .

In addition to a damage-tolerant lightweight airframe requiring no depot level inspection, easily accessible equipment including pressure refuelling and a simple hydraulic system, the M-345 HET will be equipped with a high-efficiency turbofan in the 1,600kg (3,500lb) class, characterised by low noise, reduced maintenance and fuel consumption requirements, plus long inspection intervals.

The manufacturer has yet to disclose the proposed engine but the Williams FJ44 has been indicated as a candidate. “To further reduce operating costs, the M-345 HET has been designed with a two-level maintenance concept and a health and usage monitoring system,” says Mariotto. A latest-generation glass cockpit will be centred on a head-up display (plus a repeater in the rear position) and three interchangeable 5in x 7in (13cm x 18cm) multifunction displays, plus hands-on-throttle-and-stick (HOTAS) in both cockpits, together with an embedded tactical training simulation (ETTS) and a datalink.

With a maximum take-off weight of 3,300kg (9,900lb) in trainer configuration, its combination of speed - 380kt (708km/h) at sea level or 425kt at 20,000ft - energy and manoeuvrability (it can sustain 3g at Mach 0.54 at 10,000ft), mean the M-345 HET can perform missions such low-level navigation sorties and basic fighter manoeuvres. This enables it to undertake missions normally flown by more expensive advanced or lead-in fighter trainer machines that are beyond the capabilities of turboprop trainers.

The M-345 features less complex systems than are used by turboprops in the latters’ attempts to create jet-like handling, such as automatic rudder trim, power management and aileron and spoiler systems. This brings lower maintenance and repair costs, but with comparable maintenance man hours per flying hour, says Alenia Aermacchi. While fuel consumption is slightly higher than in turboprops the M-345 HET has very different overall performance, and its acquisition and maintenance costs are lower than those of a turboprop, claims Mariotto.

During this year’s Paris air show, Alenia Aermacchi and the Italian defence ministry’s General Directorate for Armaments signed an agreement for the joint definition of operational requirements and to co-operate in development of the aircraft. More recently, Italian defence minister Mario Mauro confirmed the new trainer will replace the MB-339s used by the Frecce Tricolori display team. According to the company, the programme is expected to be launched by the start of 2014, with an entry into service date of 2017.

Meanwhile, although slowed by the loss of the first and third prototypes in crashes – the most recent in May this year – the M-346 programme that will provide aircraft for the Italian, Singaporean and Israeli air forces continues to attain new milestones.

“The Italian air force’s aircraft resumed test flights in late August and has even flown a flying display during the Jesolo air show on 1 September”, says Giovanni Orlandi, M-346 programme manager.

After the second accident, the company declared the cause had been identified, but without giving specifics. Details have been shared with customers, “and the required aircraft modifications have been approved by the relevant authority”, says Orlandi.

Since September, the aircraft has continued its test flight programme from Alenia’s Venegono Superiore facility, with the aim of completing activities for certification of the carefree flight envelope, in-flight refuelling and operation with full external fuel tanks.

“During this period, Alenia Aermacchi has decided, together with customers’ air forces, to maintain the aircraft’s production rate to avoid delivery delays,” says Orlandi. During Flight’s visit to the Venegono production facility, all three customers’ aircraft, including the first Israeli series production aircraft, were on the final assembly line. “No delays are expected for the Israeli deliveries, which are planned from mid-2014,” Orlandi adds.

No information has been provided on Singapore’s aircraft, although Flight understands that aircraft have been delivered to Cazaux air base in France – where airspace-restricted Singapore conducts much of its pilot training – and instructors are already flying on the type.

May’s accident has not prevented Alenia Aermacchi from participating in new tenders either. As well as the US Air Force’s still-to-be-launched T-X programme, the M-346 is a candidate in Poland’s search for an initial eight aircraft plus a ground-based training system (GBTS) to be installed at Deblin flying school southeast of Warsaw.

Final offer requests were released on 15 October to Alenia Aermacchi, Lockheed Martin (offering the T-50 Golden Eagle developed with Korea Aerospace Industries) and BAE Systems with its Hawk T2. Selection is expected early in 2014.

Italy’s T-346A ITS phase-in

Together with an extensive ground-based training system, the Italian air force’s T-346As will be assigned to Training Command’s 61stWing, located near Galatina in Puglia, in the south of the country, where military pilots get their wings and perform follow-on fighter training on the MB-339A (locally designated the T-339A) and –CD variant..

With plans to expand its training capabilities, the 61st Wing is positioning itself as a centre of excellence at international level, attracting students from overseas. “Today we have exchange student and instructor agreements with Argentina, France, Austria and Greece,” says Col Sergio Cavuoti, 61st Wing commanding officer and base commander. “Since 2012, Singapore’s students have conducted both Phase III and IV training syllabus here.” Since June this year they have been joined by Kuwaiti air force students, he told Flight on a recent visit to the unit.

“To replace the well-liked MB339CD in the lead-in role, the T-346A will introduce trainees to fifth- generation aircraft performance and sensors, enabling training to be transferred from operational conversion units on a more cost-efficient platform”, he explains.

The T-346A reduces the performance gap with these platforms, he adds, due to factors such as its high angle-of-attack capability, specific excess power, fly-by-wire system and carefree handling.

The aircraft features an advanced human-machine interface with full HOTAS and voice commands, as well as frontline aircraft equipment such as a helmet mounted display, night vision goggles and air-to-air refuelling probe.

The T-346A’s arrival will also allow the introduction of complex simulated training scenarios in real-time, using its embedded datalink or flight profile recorder pod.

Moreover, its advanced Embedded Training Tactical Simulation system’s capabilities will allow the simulation of an onboard multimode radar and radar warning receiver, beyond-visual range weapons (both air-to-air and air-to-ground), together with a targeting pod (IR and optical plus laser), a capability not achievable with the MB-339CD.

In the first half of 2014, the Italian air force’s experimental wing test pilots, together with 61st Wing instructors, will conduct an evaluation of the T-346A’s latest configuration. Known as the ‘follow-on Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) configuration’, it will introduce a series of enhancements and yet-to-be disclosed new capabilities required by the service. The first two aircraft were seen recently by Flight undergoing the necessary updates at Venegono.

“Assuming a successful evaluation, T-346A configuration is expected to be certified toward the end of the year,” says Col Paolo Tarantino, a member of the Italian air force team preparing the international air training symposium, due to be held in late November and at which the service will detail its new training syllabus. Six updated aircraft are expected to be delivered by then, but no indication has been provided as to when the first cadre of pilots will begin Phase IV training at Lecce on the new-generation trainer.

Prior to delivery of the T-346A, the air force and an industrial team led by Alenia is working to get the ground-based training system into service.

On Flight’s visit to Lecce air base 61stWing personnel, together with Alenia and CAE representatives, provided a look at the complete GBTS and the specifically dedicated ten hangarettes plus centrally-positioned support area facilities, the latter accommodating the aircraft for protected flight-line handling and support activities.

The T-346A GBTS centre on the base will be focused around two full-mission simulators (FMS) and three part task trainers (PPT), in addition to an exhaustive academic training system including computer-aided instruction and a computer-based training system, plus a procedural training device.

Unique to the air force’s T-346A GBTS configuration is the ‘mission-oriented’ approach philosophy, using both the Mission Planning and Debriefing System and the Real-Time Monitoring Station (RTMS).

These allow pilots to perform mission planning, briefing and rehearsal, mission execution on aircraft and simulators and mission debriefing. The RTMS allows monitoring and interaction with aircraft participating in the mission through a dedicated voice link, with live computer-generated forces injection using the T-346A’s embedded datalink system or FPR pod when operating with other aircraft not equipped with embedded data link.

The aircraft phase-in period requires only one FMS and one PPT, together with the academic training systems, while the centre will be fully populated later.