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Singapore set for Alenia Aermacchi's M-346

Oct. 1, 2010 at 6:13 AM   |   Comments

SINGAPORE, Oct. 1 (UPI) -- Singapore has confirmed an order for 12 Alenia Aermacchi M-346 advanced jet trainers for delivery starting in 2012, the defense ministry said.

Singapore Technologies Aerospace formed a consortium with Alenia Aermacchi and Boeing in 2008 to offer the M-346 to the Singaporean air force. The consortium won the contract against a Korea Aerospace Industries and Lockheed Martin offering of Lockheed's T-50, a Mach-1.5 trainer.

ST Aerospace will buy the aircraft and managing the $410 million AJT contract, including spares, on behalf of Singapore's air force. Boeing will supply ground-based training systems.

"The acquisition of the M-346 aircraft and the ground-based training system marks a significant milestone in the (air force's) force development, enhancing the capabilities and operational readiness of the Singapore armed forces," Singapore's defense ministry said in a statement.

Alenia Aermacchi's share of the contract is expected to be around $340 million for the purchase of the planes. The company was founded in 1913 and has around 1,850 employees. It has built more than 7,000 aircraft, from piston-engine primary models to jet-powered basic trainers. Clients are in more than 40 countries.

Alenia Aermacchi was acquired by Finmeccanica in 2003 and operates as a wholly owned subsidiary of Alenia Aeronautica.

The signing of the contract with Singapore is a boost for and a formation of the qualities of the M-346, Carmelo Cosentino, Alenia Aermacchi chief executive officer, said.

"Boeing will use its constant-resolution visual system in full mission simulators," Mark McGraw, vice president, Boeing Training Systems and Services, said. There is a possibility that training may take place at Alenia Aermacchi's headquarters in Italy.

Singapore uses Douglas TA-4SU Skyhawk trainers, based out of Cazaux, France. ST Aerospace provides maintenance support for the TA-4SU aircraft since 1999. It isn't known if Singapore will continue the Douglas training contract after the Lockheed planes are operational.

The M-346 prototype first flew in July 2004. In December, the Italian air force -- the other main buyer of the M-346 -- will take its first deliveries of 15 aircraft, of which seven are firm orders.

The aircraft is a direct development result from an agreement in the mid 1990s between Alenia Aermacchi and the Russian aviation manufacturer Yakovlev that was designing a new trainer for the Russian air force.

The companies collaborated on a design for a new trainer for the Italian air force, called the Yak/AEM-130. But the partnership dissolved in 2000 and under a new agreement Alenia developed a version of the plane, called the M-346, for global markets outside Russia and the former Soviet Union states.

Another possible buyer of the M-346 is the air force of the United Arab Emirates which is set to pick up 48. But there have been issues over specifications, according to some military analysts, and the contract has stalled. Emirates' officials were said to be considering Lockheed's T-50 as well.

Also losing out to the M-346 in Singapore was BAE Systems offering of the Hawk 128 trainer.

A twin-engine version of M-346 is being developed with an eye on the North American market.

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