It is one of the great favorites to replace the F-5BM of the Spanish Air Force

An Airbus and Leonardo agreement brings the excellent M-346 Master aircraft closer to Spain

The Air Force is looking for a replacement for its old F-5BM and now one of the best replacements has been made available.

The options that the Spanish Air Force could consider to replace its already veteran F-5M
The government will drastically reduce the fleet of basic trainers of the Spanish Air Force

In March you could already read here that the Italian M-346 Master is one of the favorites to replace the Spanish F-5BMs. It is an aircraft with excellent performance and highly advanced avionics, which allows pilots to be trained even for fifth-generation fighters such as the F-35. The M-346 has a maximum speed of 1,090 km/h and a range of 2,550 km, and has an M-346FA version that is a fighter and light attack aircraft. The M-346 is already in service with the Italian, Polish and Israeli Air Forces, among other operators. It would be the ideal option to replace the Spanish F-5BM before 2028, when its useful life will end.

Two M-346 of the Italian Air Force (Photo: Leonardo).

That Wednesday, Airbus released a statement referencing that aircraft. The European aeronautical company states that it has signed a memorandum of understanding with Leonardo "to jointly approach future integrated training systems market." The text states the following:

"Under this collaboration, both companies will jointly address and pursue business opportunities for the provision of advanced training systems leveraging on M-346 proven experience, thanks to over 100,000 flight hours performed worldwide by the aircraft. Airbus and Leonardo will also explore deepening ties and industrial cooperation to tackle future military pilot training domains. All based on cooperation and synergies on specific platforms and programs, also in the framework of a broader European and International collaboration."

Two M-346 of the Polish Air Force (Photo: Polska Zbrojna).

The Airbus note also includes these statements by Marco Zoff, CEO of Leonardo's Aeronautics Division: "Thanks to a common technology development roadmap based on M-346 ITS, the two Companies will also progressively shape advanced capabilities for the future air power, by intercepting emerging needs and forging innovative solutions, to provide effective next-generation fast-jet pilot training and operational readiness in complex scenarios."

The M-346FA, the light fighter version of this Italian aircraft (Photo: Leonardo).

This agreement could solve the main drawback that the M-346 had for Spain: the lack of participation of the Spanish industry in the manufacture of this aircraft. Thanks to the agreement between Airbus and Leonardo, the doors are now open for Spain to participate in the manufacture of the M-346 through Airbus, which considerably increases its chances of being chosen to replace the Spanish F-5BM.

A Polish M-346 (Photo: Hesja).

At the same time, that agreement would mean the end of Airbus AFJT project, launched in 2020 by the European company in order to offer Spain a possible replacement for its F-5BM and C-101 Aviojets. The lack of funds provided for this project by the Spanish government has led to it being shelved when it had only reached the conceptual phase. Broadly speaking, the AFJT was an aircraft very similar to the M-346, with the difference that it would take years to develop, while the M-346 made its first flight in 2004 and entered service in 2015.


Main photo: Leonardo.

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