Nigeria: Leonardo M-346 jets set to replace longstanding Alpha jets

Italian defence contractor Leonardo has been contracted to supply at least 24 new Aermacchi M-346 combat training aircraft to the Nigerian Air Force.

The Nigerian Air Force is believed to have placed an order for the M-346 jet trainer aircraft. At least six aircraft will be delivered before Q3 of 2021.

This is part of a broader airpower upgrade efforts to deliver increased efficiency and lethality to the NAF. The new Aermachi M-346 will likely replace the legacy Dassault Dornier Alpha jets which have been shouldering much of the aerial counter-insurgents airstrikes in the northern part of Nigeria.

The M-346 aircrafts will bring enhanced training and warfighting capabilities to Nigeria. Originally developed as the Yak/AEM-130 with Russia’s Yakolev, the joint venture failed in 2000, leaving Alenia Aermacchi to develop the M-346 Master separately, while Yakolev continued work on the Yakovlev Yak-130.

The Nigerian government rarely comments on armament purchases and has not made a statement concerning the M-346 combat trainer jets acquisition.

Although, Leonardo had marketed the M-346 for the region in 2019, “there is an increasing need for trainer jets in the MENA [Middle East and North Africa] region as countries there work to expand their fighter fleets. The MENA nations have requirements for trainers also able to perform close‐air support missions,” said Marco Buratti, Leonardo’s senior vice president of international marketing and strategic campaigns to DefenseNews during a tour of their facility.

Aermacchi M-346 uses equipment exclusively from Western manufacturers, and according to Leonardo, incorporates a full-authority quadruplex digital fly-by-wire flight control system which, in combination with the optimized aerodynamic configuration of the aircraft, provides for full manoeuvrability and controllability at very high angle of attack (in excess of 30° degrees).

Although marketed as an unarmed trainer however, in 2017, Aermacchi unveiled a combat-capable dual-role variant of the airplane -the M-346FA Fighter Attack version of its M-346 trainer equipped with a variant of the Grifo multi-mode fire control radar.

The aircraft can be equipped with a variety of missiles, cannons and guided bombs making it an ideal light attack aircraft.

The M-346 dual-role variant has provisions for 7 pylon stations (1× under-fuselage plus 6× under-wing including 2× wingtip), capable of mounting up to 3,000 kilograms of external payload.

They’ll likely provide advanced training to Nigerian pilots for the new JF-17 multirole fighter jets soon to be delivered by Pakistan, as well as carry on the light ground attack role of the Dassault Dornier Alpha jets first acquired 44 years ago, and in use against Boko Haram and Islamic State for over 10 years.

Ekene Lionel

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