The Italian-based international defense company Leonardo is introducing a new, Fighter Attack (FA) variant of their M-346 trainer, dedicated to combat missions. The new variant will be shown this week at the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget. According to the manufacturer, the new fighter-attack version is an evolution of a family concept of the M-346 Master, designed to create a common baseline, able to adapt and meet different requirements of air forces. Several air forces have already expressed their interest in the new variant, Leonardo said.
The new M-346FA version comes in addition to the Advanced Jet Trainer, already operational with several air forces, and the multi-role M-346FT that can assume advanced training role with operational training units (OTU).
The M-346 Fighter Attack differs from the baseline M-346 in its avionic configuration. The aircraft will retain all seven pylons for external loads, which will include a wider ordnance and pod capabilities including air-to-surface, air-to-air and tactical reconnaissance systems. The aircraft will be equipped with a dedicated variant of the Grifo-346 multi-mode fire control radar, designed and manufactured by Leonardo. The Grifo is a mechanical scan, multi-mode radar that supports multiple operating modes for air-to-air and air-to-surface.
The antenna will be optimized for the aircraft and incorporate the radar emitters and IFF dipoles. The Grifo-346 will be able to track up to 10 targets simultaneously in Track-While-Scan (TWS) mode, will have a maximum range beyond 50 NM (92 km) in the Look-Up mode and a sub-metric resolution in the Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) mode. The radar will feature seven Air-to-Air modes, six Air Combat modes, thirteen Air-to-Ground modes (including, for example, SAR, Inverse SAR, Ground Moving Target Indicator on SAR, Sea Moving Target Track) and three Navigation modes.
The company has already carried out the studies on the FA’s radar installation and its mechanical integration with the aircraft. The Rafael RecceLite reconnaissance pod is already integrated on the M-346.
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[wlm_ismember]To improve combat survivability the N-346FA The aircraft will be equipped with a Defensive Aids Sub-System (DASS), that including a Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) and chaff/flare dispensing system and a missile approach warning system comprised of six sensors providing 360° coverage. The company also offers potential customers an option to add an active Electronic CounterMeasures (ECM) jammer pod and Radar Cross Section (RCS) reduction kit, to further increase survivability.
For Air-to-Air tasks, such as air defence and air policing, the M-346FA will be typically equipped with four AIM-9L/X or Iris-T missiles, two auxiliary fuel tanks and a gun pod (or an ECM pod), reaching a Take Off Weight of 9,700 kg (including 3,015 kg of fuel and one pilot). In this configuration, the aircraft will be able to perform Combat Air Patrol (CAP) duties for two hours at a 35,000 ft altitude, in an area of interest at a 100 NM (185 km) range from the operating base, with a total mission time of 2 hours and 40 minutes. In-flight refueling capability further extend the aircraft mission endurance.
In Air-to-Ground roles, the M-346FA will typically carry a targeting pod, two rocket launchers, two guided bombs and two air-to-air missiles, for a total TOW of 8,960 kg (including 2,005 kg of fuel and one pilot). This configuration will be ideal for Close Air Support (CAS) missions: for example the aircraft will be able to effectively operate against a target at a 130 NM (240 km) range from the main base, with a mission profile including two transfer phases (base to target area and back) at optimal altitude and speed, a 15 minutes waiting phase (15,000 ft altitude) at a distance of 15 NM (28 km) from the target, attack and escape phases totalling 30 NM (55 km) at a 420 KCAS speed and a 2,000 ft altitude, a 5 minutes combat phase directly above the target at maximum power.
For reconnaissance roles, the M-346FA can be equipped with the recce pod, two auxiliary fuel tanks, and two air-to-air missiles. The TOW for this configuration will be 9,440 kg (including 3,015kg of fuel and one pilot), allowing for 2 hours and 25 minutes Hi-Lo-Hi profile mission over a target at a 480 NM (889 km) range from the aircraft home base.
In terms of external payload, the M-346FA will be able to carry auxiliary fuel tanks with a 630 l capacity each, 500 lb Mk 82 bombs (both the free fall and the “Snake Eye” high-drag versions), laser guided bombs (such as the GBU-12 Paveway II, the GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II and the Paveway IV, Lizard 2+ and 4), GPS-guided JDAMs (such as the GBU-38 and the Lizard 4), short-range air-to-surface missiles like the MBDA Brimstone and anti-ship missiles like the MBDA Marte ER In addition, the aircraft will be able to employ Air-to-Air, infra-red guided missiles (such as the AIM-9L/X Sidewinder and the IRIS-T), launchers for unguided rockets and a gun pod. The M-346FA will be able to carry over 2,000 kg of external payload.
According to the manufacturer, used as a light fighter, the M-346FA is capable of carrying out operational missions at far lower costs than those of front-line fighters.[/wlm_ismember]