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Leonardo sets sights on strike-roled M-346 FA

Leonardo has used the IDEX exhibition in Abu Dhabi to unveil plans to produce a new fighter/attack (FA) version of Aermacchi M-346, to be available from next year.

“The new version has been conceived to take advantage of the performances and the introduction of an enhanced mission configuration, based on the proven Grifo-346 multimode radar, to accomplish air-to-air and air-to-surface operations," says Leonardo aircraft division marketing and sales representative Eduardo Munhos De Campos. “The fighter/attack model will be available from the end of 2018,” he adds.

Munhos De Campos says the new model will benefit from Leonardo’s activities to take the M-346 advanced jet trainer to a new fighter trainer (FT) version, capable of conducting training and operational missions. Retaining the baseline type's avionics, in-flight refuelling capability and five external hardpoints, the FT version is being certified to drop guided and unguided bombs and carry gun pods, short-range air-to-air missiles and Rafael's Reccelite reconnaissance and targeting pods.

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Leonardo and the Italian air force recently conducted release trials with inert 226kg (500lb) Mk 82 and Elbit Systems Lizard bombs, and also trialled a 12.7mm gun pod. The FT model is also expected to be equipped with a tactical datalink, secure transmission capabilities and a defensive aids subsystem.

The M-346 FA will add Leonardo’s Grifo-346 radar, a more comprehensive electronic warfare suite including radar warning receivers, chaff and flare dispensers and an optional missile approach warning system. The Grifo-346 will gain an active electronically scanned array antenna at a later stage.

“Integration of the radar is expected to take an additional 18 months, while the mission systems configuration is being frozen”, says Munhos De Campos. Leonardo is also expected to offer an enhanced radar cross section reduction kit as part of this process.

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