Israel's defence ministry has selected Alenia Aermacchi's M-346 as the new advanced jet trainer for the Israeli air force, with a contract to include around 30 aircraft.

Announced on 16 February, the selection decision ended a long competition that pitted the M-346 against the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) T-50.

With both types deemed capable of replacing Israel's remaining Douglas A-4 Skyhawks, Israel used the contest as an opportunity to seek the sale of systems and equipment developed by its domestic companies to Italy or South Korea.

 M-346 - Alenia Aermacchi

© Alenia Aermacchi

An Elbit Systems/IAI joint venture will acquire 30 M-346 trainers for use by the Israeli air force

Italy has previously been reported as making a written commitment to purchase a number of Israeli-made systems in exchange for an M-346 victory, with these to potentially include airborne early warning and control system aircraft from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

South Korea also said it intended to purchase defence equipment from Israel but early this month expressed its unhappiness at the mechanism for the nation's trainer selection, which it described as "unfair".

The Israeli defence ministry's failure to issue a formal request for proposals for the approximately $1 billion trainer deal caused great anger in South Korea, and government-level officials from both countries were due to meet this week during the Singapore Airshow.

Discussions to conclude an M-346 order will now take place, with the new fleet to be acquired by the TOR joint venture between IAI and Elbit Systems. The company will support operations of the Italian-built aircraft, selling flight hours on the type to the Israeli air force. Alenia Aermacchi expects to receive a contract in mid-2012, with the first aircraft to be delivered during 2014.

Israel will be able to use Washington's Foreign Military Financing mechanism to complete the purchase, as the M-346 is powered by Honeywell F124 engines and features other systems also manufactured in the USA.

If concluded, the Israeli deal will represent Alenia Aermacchi's biggest sales success with the M-346. Early this month, it delivered the second production example of the type to the Italian air force from an initial six-aircraft order; and later this year it will hand over the first of 12 under contract for the Republic of Singapore Air Force. The company has yet to comment about the selection, but confirmed that it has been informed of the decision.

A T-100 derivative of the M-346 is also being promoted as a potential solution for the US Air Force's pending T-X competition, which will seek to replace the service's Northrop T-38 Talons. Competition is expected to come from the KAI/Lockheed Martin T-50 and a Hawk proposal led by BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman.

Additional reporting by Craig Hoyle in London

Source: Flight International