Israel to buy M-346 trainers in US$1 billion deal


Israel has chosen Finmeccanica’s Alenia Aermacchi unit to supply 30 M-346 Master training jets for US$1 billion, the Israeli defence ministry said yesterday.

After a close, three-year long competition, Israel selected the M-346 over Korean Aerospace Industries’ T-50 Golden Eagle, Major General Udi Shani, director general of the Israeli Defence Ministry, said in a statement.

As part of the agreement the Italian government will make US$1 billion worth of “offset” purchases from Israel’s defence industries, Shani said.

The IAF said it determined that the Italian aircraft is superior to the Korean in most parameters. One of the main dilemmas regarding the choice of the Italian plane had to do with its crash in Dubai, but the IAF received a detailed analysis of the circumstances of the accident. The debrief concluded that the accident occurred as a result of a manufacturing issue that occurred only in the prototypes, and that it was later fixed in the manufacturing line of the next aircraft.

In the past two years the IAF has searched for a replacement for the A-4 Skyhawk, which is used to train cadets. The air force identified two main reasons to replace the Skyhawk. The first is that it is an old aircraft that has been flying for 40 years. As a result, it suffers from usability issues. Without a significant financial investment its future of service in the force is limited.

The second reason is the gap between the first instructional aircraft cadets fly and the operational aircraft they eventually fly when they complete their training, the Israeli air force said.

The official contract award is scheduled for the middle of 2012 and the first M-346s are expected to arrive in 2014, and in 2015 they will already be serving as instructional aircraft.

The M-346 has just been delivered to the Italian Air Force and, in the short term, will also be in service with Singapore’s Air Force. The Italian Air Force received its first two M-346s at the beginning of the year, after signing a contract for a first batch of six in late 2009.

The M-346 also received its Military Type Qualification Certificate from the Ministry of Defence – National Armaments Directorate in June 2011, an essential requirement to certify the full correspondence to aircraft specifications and to international military requirements. At the end of September 2010, the first international contract under the Fighter Wings Course (FWC) programme was signed with the Singapore government. The consortium, formed by ST Aerospace (prime contractor), Alenia Aermacchi and Boeing, was awarded the contract to supply 12 M-346 aircraft and ground-based training systems (GBTS). The first aircraft are scheduled to be delivered during this year.

In February 2009, the M-346 was selected by the United Arab Emirates under its tender for 48 new trainer aircraft, in both operational and training versions.