Israel's mid-February selection of the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 as the next advanced jet trainer for the nation's air force represents the green light for joint-venture service provider TOR to start work.

Formed by Elbit Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to facilitate the introduction of a fleet to replace the nation's Douglas A-4 Skyhawks, TOR will finance the purchase of about 30 twin-engined M-346 aircraft on behalf of the defence ministry.

Alenia Aermachi M-346

 © Alenia Aermachi

Israel will acquire 30 M-346 trainers

In return for its financial support, the Israeli air force will buy flight hours on the new type at its flight academy at Hazerim air base, and also grant TOR a 20-year support and maintenance contract to support its activities using company personnel.

Initial indications suggest the M-346 deal could potentially value at $1 billion, with sources putting TOR's part in the financing programme at about $600 million. The remainder of the funds will come from foreign military financing grants to Israel from the USA. Israel can make use of the latter mechanism because the M-346 uses Honeywell F124 engines and other systems manufactured in the USA.

Formally selected following a protracted competition against the Korea Aerospace Industries T-50, the M-346 will enter Israeli service from 2014, the nation's air force said.

If the deal with TOR is concluded, Israel will become the third country to acquire the M-346, following Alenia Aermacchi's previous receipt of contracts from Italy and Singapore. Last month, the company delivered its second T-346A trainer to an Italian air force evaluation unit under an initial six-aircraft deal. It will hand over the first of 12 to the Republic of Singapore Air Force later this year.

Israel's search for a new advanced jet trainer has been a long one, with its requirement having been hindered by lack of funds. IAI had previously offered to develop two military versions of the Javelin very light/personal jet, then being developed by the USA's Advanced Technologies Group, but development work ended in 2008 after the latter failed to secure the $200 million required to pursue certification activities for the type.

Fielding a new jet trainer is the last major link in the modernisation of the Israeli air force's pilot-training mechanism, with the Grob G120A and Hawker Beechcraft T-6A used to deliver basic and primary instruction respectively. The future M-346 fleet will replace a mixed inventory of two-seat TA-4H/Js, 20 of which are in active use as recorded by Flightglobal's MiliCAS database. Israel also operates single-seat A-4Ns to support its training needs.

Source: Flight International