While there are no currently available specifications or requirements that would provide insight into what a weaponized or “operational” M-345 would look like, transitioning the aircraft to a light attack role will not require substantial modifications.
The M-345 is based on Leonardo’s twin-engine M-346, which has already proven itself as the trainer and light attack aircraft of choice for Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Poland, and Italy. Leonardo is also currently proposing their T-100 trainer, based on the M-346, for the United States Air Force T-X trainer replacement program which will likely conclude with a selection this week.
Leonardo initially developed the M-345 to offer the superior performance and training effectiveness typical of a jet aircraft at costs comparable to high-powered turboprop trainers. The two-and-a-half-ton-aircraft has considerable performance and maneuverability and an external load-carrying capability of over one ton with an extended range of 960 nautical miles.
The M-345 powerplant is a small Williams FJ44-4M-34 two-spool turbofan engine built by Williams International of Pontiac, Mi. and London-based Rolls-Royce plc. The M-345’s FJ44 engine – which has also appeared on Scaled Composites and Lockheed Martin Skunk Works projects – has been optimized for military and acrobatic use.
With the FJ44, the M-345 can cruise at 380 knots true airspeed (KTAS) at sea level, allowing trainees transitioning to “fast-jets” to master high speed maneuvering at low level. It boasts an impressive climb rate of 5,200 feet per minute and a service ceiling of 40,000 feet. At 20,000 feet, the M-345 can maintain 425 KTAS. (image source: Leonardo)
The M-345 cockpit architecture and avionics also include modern equipment found in many global frontline fighters: hand on throttle-and-stick (HOTAS) controls, a glass cockpit with three five-by-seven-inch color multi-function display touchscreens, and a head-up “repeater” display mirrored on a fourth screen in the rear seat.
Beyond its performance capabilities, the aircraft’s impressive durability, or fatigue life, is rated at 15,000 hours of flight time. To further reduce operational costs the M-345 is designed with a two-level maintenance methodology in order to eliminate expensive general overhauls. This is made possible by a Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS) that displays airframe and system component prognostics.
The agreement between Leonardo and Paramount Group also includes provisions for the possible involvement of Paramount in the Leonardo SF-260 military trainer aircraft program and its logistic support services. As a light military training and acrobatics aircraft, the three-seat SF-260 serves a similar role to the M-345.
This article is Part One of a two part series on the development of the M-345 for the African market. Check back soon for Part Two.
William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include 'literally anything that has to do with space,' past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology. And also sportscars.
Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.