The United Arab Emirates air force and air defence has selected Alenia Aermacchi's M-346 Master as its future advanced lead-in fighter trainer. The UAE government on 25 February announced at the International Defence Exhibition & Conference (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi that negotiations have begun for the acquisition of 48 M-346s for an undisclosed sum. However, sources suggest the acquisition could be worth around €1 billion ($1.27 billion).

An undisclosed number of the aircraft are expected to be procured in a light attack configuration, with Finmeccanica company Alenia Aermacchi to also provide a full ground-based training system including flight simulators as part of the deal. Deliveries are planned from 2012.

M-346 LRIP 
© Alenia Aermacchi

The announcement also unveiled the creation of a joint venture in the UAE between Alenia Aermacchi and Mubadala Development to establish a final assembly line for the M-346. The agreement also foresees "the manufacturing of aerostructures in composite materials for the civil sector in Abu Dhabi," says Finmeccanica chief executive Pier Francesco Guarguaglini. The company says the pact is also the result of close collaboration between the Italian government and defence industry.

Alenia Aermacchi's M-346 was selected following a lengthy competition with the Korea Aerospace Industries/Lockheed Martin T-50. The UAE commitment represents the first export sale for the M-346, 15 of which will also be produced for the Italian air force.

Source: Flight International