LAAD 2023 – Brazil: Leonardo proposal for LIFT and CAS missions

Paolo Valpolini

Although no requirement has yet emerged from the Força Aérea Brasileira (FAB), Leonardo of Italy is actively promoting its M-346 as a solution for two main roles. The first is the Lead-In Fighter Trainer mission, to allow FAB pilots to reach Gripen operational units needing a very limited number of operational conversion flights thanks to a gradual syllabus that brings the pilot from the high-performance turboprop aircraft, the Super Tucano, through the high-performance jet trainer, the M-346, to the operational aircraft.

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According to Leonardo representatives such an approach, which is followed by many first-tier air forces, allows to increase proficiency and safety, as well as protecting the most expensive asset that is the fighter. Downloading flight hours from high cost to more economic aircraft along with the use of synthetic devices allows dramatic cost saving while keeping pilots training at the highest standard, Leonardo underlines.

Leonardo is ready to adapt the M-346 cockpit according to customer needs, to make it as much as possible similar to their first-line fighter.

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According to Leonardo Brazil needs to train a considerable number of pilots, and the M-346 thanks to its embedded simulation system and the possibility to link it to other players, either real or virtual, adding also virtual sensors, opens up new training frontiers, could well comply with FAB training requirements.

However the M-346 is far from being only a trainer, the M-346FA Fighter Attack variant being suited for air-to-ground missions when fitted with precision-guided munitions, but can also perform
air-to-air and tactical reconnaissance missions. Brazilian AMX, employed for over 30 years in that role, should start being retired from 2025 on, and the Gripen is definitely too expensive and also not the best option when dealing with slow movers. Currently some 46 AMX, few of them modernised, are still in service with the FAB.

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Leonardo stresses that the M-346 would provide the ideal solution, especially if both the training and the attack variant would deploy on the same base, as this would allow a single maintenance and logistic organisation, while training would see the last phase becoming inherently a conversion one, as in essence the two aircraft are very similar.

Of course, should the requirement become reality, Leonardo will not be alone. Boeing and Saab developed the T-7A Red Hawk, and the recently signed agreement between Embraer and Saab shows how much the two companies are close in this very moment. However history tells of a longstanding cooperation between Embraer and then Aermacchi on the MB-326, which was sold by Brazil to many different customers, while the Brazilian aviation company cooperated with then Aeritalia on the AMX, both Italian entities being now part of Leonardo.

For the time being, in May 2022 the Chief of the Brazilian Air Force, Lt.Gen. Carlos de Almeida Baptista Junior, visited Italy and more specifically the Galatina Air base, home of the 61st Wing, that currently hosts the International Flight Training School (IFTS), handled by the Italian Air Force and Leonardo, which final location is the Decimomannu Air Base, in Sardinia. Gen. De Almeida flew the M-346, the IFTS being a possible solution for training Brazilian pilots, or eventually Brazilian instructors, should the FAB decide to acquire the M-346 Master.

Photos courtesy Leonardo