In 1993, Aermacchi approached Yakovlev to partner in his new project, a new generation advanced trainer. What was then known as the Yak-130 became the Yak/AEM-130. The aircraft made its first flight on April 26, 1996, and was presented in Italy in 1997, as a potential successor to the MB-339. But at the Farnborough Air Show in July 2000, Aermacchi announced that it was withdrawing from the joint program and developing its own version. Indeed, the Russian economic situation at the time led to fear the worst, including an abandonment of the aircraft.
The M-346 is therefore a westernized version of the Yak-130, with the same general shape. It is essentially built in aluminum alloys, with some parts in composite materials. The difference is mainly due to the Honeywell/ITEC F124-GA-200 engines built under license in Italy and to the equipment, such as the Martin-Baker 16D ejection seat. It has three 12.7 cm by 12.7 cm multi-function color displays, programmable CDVEs based on the student’s skills, a HOTAS joystick, a HUD, even a helmet sight and night vision systems.
It has 9 carry points, allowing it to carry Mk82 and Mk83 bombs, Sidewinder, Maverick and Marte MK-2A missiles. However, it does not carry any fixed armament. It is equipped with an OBOGS oxygen generation system, allowing it to do without oxygen tanks, a GPS navigation system and an APU system. Moreover, the aircraft can approach transonic speeds without afterburner, which is an interesting step towards the supercruise itself and facilitates, in any case, lower operating costs.
2 prototypes and a pre-production aircraft were built: the CPX615, the CMX616 and the CPX617. The prototype left the factory on June 7, 2003, but its flight was delayed, perhaps because of the appearance of some versions of the Hawk. The inaugural flight took place on July 15, 2004. Since then, 615 and 617 have crashed.
In January 2005, the Greek government announced that it would take charge of 10% of the costs of the development of the program, as well as of its industrialization. At the end of March 2008, Enaer signed a contract to help market the aircraft in South America. In May 2008, Boeing did the same thing on its side.
For the moment, the M-346, nicknamed Master, has been chosen by 4 countries: Italy (6 firm aircraft plus 9 as options), Singapore (12 aircraft, all delivered), Israel (30 aircraft, in progress) and Poland (8 aircraft on order).
The United Arab Emirates declared it the winner of a competition on February 25, 2009, with 48 aircraft involved after tests in July 2007. 20 were to be used for training, 20 others for ground attack, which would have been equipped with a Selex Galileo Vixen 500E radar with active antenna, a radar warning detector and decoy launchers. The last 8 were to equip a new acrobatic patrol. However, in January 2010, the competition was declared open again.
The M-346 is offered to Thailand as part of its tender to replace its Aero L-39 in December 2014, against the L-159 and probably, eventually, the Chinese JL-9 and L-15, the British Hawk, the Yak-130 and the South Korean T-50.
The M-346 is also being offered to the United States as part of the T-X program, under the name T-100. This program, aimed at replacing the T-38, could involve between 350 and 1000 aircraft. In January 2013, Alenia Aermacchi partnered with General Dynamics to present the T-100. The company eventually withdrew to make way for Raytheon.
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