Leonardo's M-346FA light combat aircraft
Leonardo's M-346FA light combat aircraft

Nigerian Air Force Confirms Procurement of Leonardo M-346FA Light Combat Aircraft

Nigeria officially confirmed the acquisition of 24 Leonardo M-346FA light combat aircraft on May 27. Nigerian media also had published about the purchase of 24 Leonardo M-346FA light combat aircraft by Nigeria. The size of the order indicates the intention to equip two squadrons with these light combat aircraft. The size of the order indicates the intention to equip two squadrons with these aircraft. The Italian light combat aircraft would be intended to replace the older Alpha Jet ground attack aircraft of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF). The M-346FA will also be used as a lead-in trainer for the new Chengdu PAC JF-17 fighter aircraft. The M-346FA will also provide valuable support to the Nigerian Air Force’s efforts in reducing the activities of Islamic extremist groups.

The Leonardo M-346 is a family of military transonic advanced jet trainers. The M-346 is designed for the main role of lead-in fighter trainer, in which aircraft’s performance and capabilities are used to deliver pilot training for the latest generation of combat light aircraft. Originally co-developed with Yakovlev as the Yak/AEM-130, the partnership was dissolved in 2000 and then Alenia Aermacchi proceeded to separately develop the M-346 Master, while Yakolev continued work on the Yakovlev Yak-130. The type is currently operated by the air forces of Italy, Israel, Singapore, Greece, Turkmenistan and Poland. Since 2016 the manufacturer became Leonardo-Finmeccanica as Alenia Aermacchi merged into the new Finmeccanica, finally rebranded as Leonardo in 2017.

Leonardo M-346FA Light Combat Aircraft. (Photo by Leonardo)

The M-346FA (Fighter Attack) is a multirole variant capable of air-to-air and air-to-surface combat with a 3 tonne payload spread over 7 hardpoints, advanced Grifo-M346 radar radar, countermeasures and stealth features including engine intake grids and radar-absorbing coatings on the canopy and wing leading edge. It is being marketed as a light attack aircraft also suitable for aggressor and companion training purposes. The aircraft was revealed on June 18, 2017, in a static display at that year’s Paris Air Show. The aircraft is being marketed for export to South American and East Asian countries, and is claimed to be able to carry out operational missions at far lower costs than those of front-line fighters.

The M-346FA maintains all the features of a trainer aircraft with the addition of new generation equipment and sensors, making it an effective operational solution in the light combat role. The aircraft is equipped with multi-mode Grifo-M-346 mechanical scanning radar, developed by Leonardo and optimised for the M-346FA: a dependable, high-performing solution offering superior accuracy and enabling exceptional system modularity. The M-346FA is protected by a complete passive defence system (DASS – Defensive Aids Sub-System), while the integrated communication system and tactical datalink (TDL), which may also be integrated in a version compliant with NATO requirements, ensure the highest levels of interoperability.