Israel to buy 30 M346 jet trainers from Italy for $1B

Photo: Alenia Aermacchi

Israels Ministry of Defense (IMOD) has reached a preliminary agreement with Italy for the procurement of 30 M346 military training jets, built by the Italian company Alenia Aermacchi. The value of the package is one billion US$. Pending formal government approval, the agreement marks the end of a long competition between Italy and South Korea over the lucrative sale.

The Italian jet has already won two international orders from Singapore and the UAE while the T-50 won one international order, from Indonesia. Both trainers are competing for a similar order in Poland and a huge opportunity in the USA. Winning the Israeli order would have given the Koreans an important endorsement, promoting prospects in additional international markets.

Photo: Alenia Aermacchi
Photo: Alenia Aermacchi

The M346 will replace the A-4N/TA-4N Skyhawks, serving as advanced trainers since the mid-1980s. The Israel Air Force plans to phase out the Skyhawks  after more than four decades of service. The IAF received the first Skyhawks from US surplus in 1968.

Italy will reciprocate the Israeli purchase by buying $1 billion in Israeli defense equipment, Israel’s Defense Ministry said. The IMOD director general, Udi Shani, said the offset deal enabled Israel to make the large purchase in a “harsh budgetary reality.”

Italy has already been equipped with Israeli defense products, including guided weapons, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) equipment, electronic warfare systems and self protection systems for combat helicopters and transport planes. Israeli companies have also cooperated with Italian firms on a number of international aircraft upgrading programs. Further opportunities being discussed in relation with the current package include the transfer of two airborne early warning aircraft, developed by Elta Systems. Italy could potentially be a candidate for the ISR package originally ordered by Turkey, whose transfer was refused by the Israel MOD few months ago. This package is well aligned with the priorities set by the Italian Air Force following the Libyan campaign, accelerating the acquisition, processing and dissemination of intelligence into targeting data.

South Korea has hoped to sell its T-50 aircraft to Israel and had issued a $1.6 billion counteroffer, including buying the Iron Dome counter-rocket system, defense officials said. Seoul have recently acquired a number of defense systems from Israel, including the Spike NLOS missiles, advanced fire control radars for its indigenous fighters and the ‘Green Pine’, a large anti-missile radar.

The Israel Air Force favored the Italian plane based on a technical evaluation. Not said it will accept the IMOD recommendation. This left little room for maneuver for the IMOD. Despite the fact the Korean offer was backed by Lockheed Martin, with the potential benefit of being funneled through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales channel, the Koreans often complained about lack of transparency in the process, long before the IMOD selected the Italian proposal.