The Italian air force has become the first customer for Alenia Aermacchi's M-346 Master advanced/lead-in-fighter trainer, following the signature of a long-awaited deal worth €220 million ($330 million).

Signed by the company and the defence ministry's general directorate of air armaments on 10 November, the deal covers the delivery of an integrated training system comprising an initial six aircraft and related ground-based training equipment. Funded by the Italian economical development ministry, the contract also includes a five-year package of maintenance and logistics support.

Italy eventually plans to buy 15 aircraft in a dedicated trainer configuration dubbed the T-346A, which will reduce work now performed at the operational conversion unit level.

Alenia Aermacchi M346
 © Alenia Aermacchi

The aircraft will incorporate helmet-mounted displays, voice command, simulated forward-looking infrared sensor and integrated stores management, plus automatic disorientation recovery and a ground proximity warning system.

Alenia Aermacchi will deliver its first two T-346As by the end of next year. These will be assigned to the air force's experimental unit at Pratica di Mare air base near Rome for a one-year period of operational test and evaluation.

The next four will be handed over by late 2011 at Lecce air base south-eastern Italy, which houses the air force's 61st Wing flight school. This graduates pilots and instructors using the Alenia Aermacchi MB-339A/CD.

The first-phase contract will also deliver one of two full-mission simulators from CAE and one of three part-task trainers to be developed by the company and Selex Galileo, plus computer-based trainers.

A training management information system and mission planning and debriefing stations will also be installed at Lecce, while Alenia Aermacchi is to provide flightline support facilities and a dedicated maintenance hangar.

"The delivery of the new advanced training package will make the Italian air force's flight school a strong candidate for both the AEJPT [Advanced European Jet Pilot Training service] and other countries' requirements for international training," says deputy chief-of-staff Gen Giuseppe Bernardis.

The site already accommodates instructors and students from Greece, and "agreements are under discussion at different stages with Algeria, Austria, Nigeria and Zambia", he adds.

Alenia Aermacchi chief executive Carmelo Cosentino says Italy's production contract will strengthen his company's position in pursuing possible future deals in Singapore and for the AEJPT/Eurotraining deal, and in the United Arab Emirates, "where we are finalising contract details for both the advanced trainer and light attack versions".

A prototype of the M-346 will be on display at the 15-19 November Dubai air show in UAE air force colours, with the customer having previously selected the type for a 48-aircraft requirement.

Source: Flight International