July 10, 2010:
Singapore is buying 48 Italian M-346 advanced jet trainers. The Italians were competing with the South Korea T-50, which also lost out to the M-346 last year when the UAE (United Arab Emirates) also bought 48 M-346s. The M-346 and T-50 are considered two of the best jet trainers on the market, but South Korea is new to export arms sales, while the Italians have decades of experience.
The M-346 is a 9 ton, twin engine, two seat aircraft. Top speed is 1,000 kilometers an hour. Max range with two drop tanks is 2,500 kilometers. The aircraft can also carry three tons of weapons, including bombs, missiles and a cannon pod. Thus the M-346 is an excellent dual use aircraft, as a trainer and fighter-bomber. The M-346 began production two years ago. Development began in the 1990s, as a joint venture with Russia. But the two projects split in 2000, with the Russians continuing to develop theirs as the Yak-130.
The Yak-130 is capable to performing many of the tricky maneuvers of Russia's top fighters (like the Su-27/30, MiG-29 and many modern Western fighters). It can also perform as a light bomber. The nine ton Yak-130 has a max speed of 1,000 kilometers an hour and a flight lifetime of 10,000 hours in the air. The pilot instructor and trainee sit one behind the other, and two engines make it a safer aircraft to fly. The Yak-130 can carry an external load of three tons (of bombs, missiles or fuel tanks). Max range, on internal fuel, is 2,000 kilometers. Russia is selling the aircraft to foreign customers for about $15 million. The M-346 costs fifty percent more.
Five years ago, Russia decided to standardize on the Yak-130 jet trainer, and production began three years ago. So far, the Russian Air Force has bought 56 and Algeria ordered 24. The Russian Air Force says it will buy 200 of them to equip four regiments of light attack aircraft. So far, the Italian Air Force has bought 15 M-346s, and the UAE order was the first export sale.