With the US Air Force’s hunt for a next-generation military trainer aircraft narrowed down to three top contenders, the CEO of one of them – Leonardo, Italy’s largest defense company – was in Israel meeting with key partners of Israel’s defense establishment.
Last March, Leonardo submitted its bid for the United States Air Force’s T-X advanced jet-trainer program, which aims to replace the aging T-38 Talon aircraft from the 1960s. Its T-100 program is up against Lockheed Martin’s T-50A and a new Boeing program designed specifically for the tender.
While Leonardo is the underdog in the tender, the company believes that the experience of the Israel Air Force will give it a leg up against the US defense giants.
Leonardo’s T-100 is a derivative of the M-346 Master advanced jet trainer and is used by the air forces of Italy, Singapore, Poland and Israel where it known as the Lavi. IAF has a fleet of 30 Lavi with four simulators which entered into service in 2014.
A senior officer in the Israel Air Force has confirmed that the Lavi program allows pilots to train for situations they never could before, and according to Alessandro Profumo, CEO of Leonardo, the number of sorties by the IAF on the Lavi is not only “incredible but impressive.”
“Israel is for us a strategic partner with which we share excellent diplomatic relations and a vision of innovation and technological excellence in many fields, from aeronautics to space to cyber,” Profumo said.
“During this trip I had the confirmation that we have strong and successful collaborations with industries and with the country’s armed forces, as in the case of the M-346 trainer operated by Israel Air Force. We are proud of this customer reference as it represents a valuable business card for our export initiatives, starting from the US Air Force T-X bid.”
The US Air Force will use the new T-X trainer to train pilots for the fifth generation stealth fighter F-35 as well as the F-16 and F-22 fighter jets.
A spokeswoman from Leonardo told The Jerusalem Post that the company’s T-100 aircraft is “the only trainer available on the market that operates with an integrated helmet technology guaranteeing the highest training capability, in line with equipment in use on 4th and 5th generation fighters.”
“The T-100 is a proven, low cost, low risk, fifth-generation pilot-training solution that currently is being used to train air force pilots that operate F-35 such as [those in] Israel and Italy,” the spokeswoman added.
One of the key segments of the tender is that the training system includes the simulators which must be able to take pilots to the level of fifth-generation jets such as the F-35, which are already in use by the US and Israel.
Leonardo’s T-100/M-346 (Lavi) design pioneered the integrated multi-user Live Virtual, Constructive (LVC) training system approach, which makes it possible to link simulators to live sorties.
The LVC approach can allow pilots in the air to fly “wing-to-wing” with the crew in simulators on the ground, who see a 3-D model of their wingman’s jet in the air. Analogous radar and data links on the multifunction displays of the jets in the air show the position of the simulator aircraft as if there were truly in the sky.
Not only does the LVC approach reduce the cost associated with the requirements to fly so many sorties with a number of aircraft during training missions, but it allows for more complex training exercises while simultaneously reducing the risks involved.
The bid of an initial 350 aircraft is worth around $16.3 billion for the life cycle of the program. The decision of who wins the bid is set to be made by the end of July.