A war of words has broken out between the two companies contesting the United Arab Emirates’ potentially sector defining advanced jet trainer requirement, with Italy’s Alenia Aermacchi having dismissed its Korea Aerospace Industries/Lockheed Martin rival as unsuitable for the up to 24-aircraft requirement.
Alenia Aermacchi is offering its M-346, which company chief executive Carmelo Cosentino believes could secure orders for around 140 aircraft within the next five years. The manufacturer is confident of beating the KAI/Lockheed T-50, due to the F-16-derived design’s greater weight, says Alenia Aermacchi test pilot Olinto Cecconello, who adds: “The T-50 is an excellent aircraft, but it is a fighter.”
The designs are contesting the last phase of a competition which Cosentino expects to be for between 15 and 24 aircraft for delivery from 2011-12, with BAE Systems’ Hawk 128 having been ruled out of the contest late last month.
Questioning the suitability of using a single-engine design for lead-in fighter training, and also dismissing the T-50’s supersonic performance as not cost-effective, Cosentino claims: “The M-346 doesn’t have any real competition worldwide.”
Both aircraft are also being considered to meet the training needs of Singapore, and along with the Hawk are expected to square up again in a large number of emerging contests. Alenia Aermacchi lists near-term sales opportunities as existing in Chile, Greece, Poland, Portugal, Qatar and Saudi Arabia for a combined 125 AJT-class aircraft.
The M-346 and T-50 are also viewed by their manufacturers as candidates for a longer-term US Air Force requirement to replace the supersonic Northrop T-38 trainer, which combined with US Navy requirements could total around 500 new aircraft, believes Cosentino.
South Korea has received 20 T-50s from domestic orders for 72 aircraft, and is close to finalising a deal to add a further 10 to replace the air force’s Cessna T-37-equipped Black Eagles display team. Seoul is expected to increase this commitment by a further 60 aircraft in the first quarter of next year, with plans to order 60 F/A-50 light attack examples to be delivered from late 2011.
The Italian defence ministry in mid-November confirmed its planned launch order for an initial batch of 15 M-346 trainers, with Alenia Aermacchi expecting to deliver the service’s first example in 2010. The manufacturer’s first pre-series production example will roll off its assembly line at Venegono near Milan by early December, says Cosentino, with the aircraft scheduled to fly for the first time in March 2008.