Fri, 05/17/2019 – 21:17
The M-345 is an Italian single-engine advanced jet trainer (AJT) produced by Leonardo, which refers to the aircraft as the “High Efficiency Trainer (HET).” Leonardo has marketed the M-345 as a cost competitive alternative to turboprop basic trainers as well as other subsonic jet trainers.
The M-345 is a product of Aermacchi’s takeover of the production rights to the SIAI-Marchetti S.211 in 1997. The aircraft was re-branded the M-311 and then re-branded again in 2013 as the M-345. The M-345 prototype features significant changes from the original M-311 prototype, which was designated as the X-619,including a re-sculptured nose, new air intakes, new avionics and a new engine.
The prototype for the M-345 achieved first flight on December 29, 2016 from Venegono Superiore airfield in Varese, Italy. The current version has a maximum take-off weight of 9,900 pounds (4,500 kg) and is powered by a single Williams International FJ-44-4M turbofan engine which provides up to 3,400 lb. (1,540kg) of thrust. The aircraft has a maximum speed of 480 mph (770 km/h), a service ceiling of 40,000 ft. (12,200 m) and a range of 875 mi. (1,410 km) or 1,150 mi. (1,850 km) with two 70-gal. (265-L) external fuel tanks. The airframe is designed for a service life of 15,000 hours.
The M-345’s cockpit, avionics and mission systems are based on Leonardo’s M-346 AJT including the hands on throttle-and-stick (HOTAS) controls, the heads-up display and the multi-function displays. The aircraft will also feature embedded simulation and datalink capabilities.
Two pylons on each wing which can accommodate up to 2,640 lb. (1,200kg) of external stores. Weapons compatibility includes a host of precision-guided munitions and air-to-ground rockets as well as targeting and reconnaissance pods. Leonardo also plans to integrate 12.7 mm machine gun and 20 mm cannon pods to the aircraft’s armament options. The M-345 can also be armed with both the Raytheon AIM-9L and Diehl BGT IRIS-T infrared-guided air-to-air missiles.
Leonardo plans to make additional design alterations to the current prototype prior to beginning low rate initial production; these changes include a new canopy,landing gear and ejection seats. Leonardo has also expressed interest in eventually developing a light attack variant of the aircraft, an initiative which would likely benefit from Leonardo’s experience with its M-346FT (fighter trainer) and M-346FA (fighter attack) programs. The company also believes the aircraft can meet the needs of customers seeking a low cost aerial policing or interception aircraft.
Production and Delivery History
The Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militare, AM) plans to purchase a total of 45 M-345s to replace its Aermacchi MB-339s in use as AJTs and with the Frecce Tricolori – the service’s flight demonstration team. On Jan. 13, 2017, the AM ordered its first batch of five M-345s in tandem with funding the development of the new exploration and escort helicopter for the Italian Army; the cumulative value of both contracts exceeded€500 million. The aircraft are expected to be delivered in 2019. An order for the second batch is expected to be signed by the end of 2017. The M-345 will be designated as the T-345 in AM service.
A light attack variant of the M-345 may be desirable for the AM as the service is currently retiring its fleet of AMX International A-11B and TA-11B light combat aircraft without a scheduled replacement. The AM has utilized the AMX as a low-cost ground attack aircraft in both combat operations in Afghanistan and Libya.
In March 2015, Alenia Aermacchi signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the state-owned Chilean aerospace company, ENAER, to collaborate on the development of both the M-345 HET and C-27J Spartan. Chile is looking to replace its fleet of Casa C-101B Aviojet AJTs. In March 2016, General of the Air Brigade – Henry Cleveland Cartes – remarked that discussions with Alenia Aermacchi were still ongoing with respect to determining the extent of Enaer’s participation in the development of the M-345.
Initial Export Orders for Unknown Customers
In June 2017 during the Paris Air Show, Leonardo announced it had secured M-345 orders from two customers. The contractor declined to name the customers but said they were new to the company’s products.