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Israeli jet trainer contest heats up

A request for proposals for the selection of a new advanced jet trainer for the Israeli air force will be issued "this summer", with a final selection expected in early 2012.

The Alenia Aermacchi M-346 and Korea Aerospace Industries T-50 are in contention for the deal, with the winning type to be purchased by a joint venture formed by Elbit Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries. The selected aircraft will replace the air force's aged Douglas A-4 Skyhawks, with the service to buy flight hours from the industry team.

Immediately after the release of the RFP, the two manufacturers are expected to accelerate their efforts to persuade the Israeli air force that their product is better. While the candidates' unit price has become a lesser consideration due to the purchase involvement of the industrial joint venture, their performance will play a major role.

Alenia Aermacchi is emphasising the M-346's twin-engine design, which it claims adds to the safety and mission endurance of the aircraft. The type's cockpit can also be upgraded with additional systems as it has spare power generation and cooling capacity, it says.

In recent negotiations, Alenia Aermacchi has agreed to allow IAI to build an assembly line for the M-346, and for it to integrate new equipment made by Elbit.

Sources close to the negotiations say KAI has agreed to allow local assembly of its T-50. "This is logical even for the 30 aircraft that are included in the [November 2010] request for information, as later most of the equipment will be used for the maintenance of the aircraft," one source says.

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