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Portugal eyes contracted M-346 fleet for training need

Portugal is exploring the possibility of contracting advanced jet training for its air force pilots to an external provider that would acquire Leonardo M-346s for the operation.

Lisbon has struggled with its pilot training requirements since the retirement of its Dassault Alpha Jets at the beginning of 2018, sending some crews to the USA as a stopgap measure.

But Gen Manuel Teixeira Rolo, chief of the Portuguese air force, told a 16 January parliamentary defence committee hearing that the US option was not a viable long-term solution.

Instead, he says, Portugal is considering a "power by the hour" contract with a local provider for the requirement.

Rolo identifies Lisbon-based leasing specialist Hi Fly as the company involved. However, it is understood that sister military business SkyTech would acquire and operate the aircraft.

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Crucial to the enterprise will be the involvement of additional partner countries. Rolo says he is hopeful that Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway could also join the effort.

All three countries currently fly the Lockheed Martin F-16, but are transitioning to the F-35 for their future fighter requirements. Portugal is also an F-16 operator.

As a result, the project would need a sufficiently advanced jet trainer to support instruction on both the fourth- and fifth-generation types.

Rolo indicates that the M-346 is the prime candidate for the role, although he notes that there are other alternatives on the market.

SkyTech already has a tentative agreement in place with Aero Vodochody for 10 L-39NG trainers, with the Czech Republic-based manufacturer describing its product as capable of supporting basic, advanced and lead-in fighter training requirements.

Rolo says he is "very optimistic" about the potential partnership, with discussions believed to be at a relatively advanced stage; SkyTech declines to comment.

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