ROME —Italy’s ambitions to host a cutting edge flight training school for pilots from around the world were boosted Thursday, thanks to an order of 13 new M-345 jet trainers from local defense giant Leonardo.

The new planes, which come with a price tag of $338 million, will join five others already ordered and contribute to efforts to replace 137 MB-339 trainer aircraft that have been in service since 1982.

The new aircraft, which will be delivered starting next year and are part of a requirement for 45 aircraft, will join the Italian Air Force’s 18 M-346 advanced trainers at Galatina base near Lecce in southern Italy. Powered by a turbofan Williams FJ44-4M-34 engine, the aircraft will compete with equivalent turbo prop basic trainers on operational costs, Leonardo has said. As activity at Galatina expands, the Italian Air Force is expected to move its M-346 trainers to a new home at Decimomannu on the Italian island of Sardinia, thus doubling the training sites in Italy, while keeping its MB-339s — and subsequently the new M-345s — at Galatina.

Separately on Thursday, an Italian defense source told Defense News that a long planned joint venture between Italian shipyard Fincantieri and France’s Naval Group will be formally signed on board an Italian frigate on Friday. Fincantieri CEO Giuseppe Bono and Naval Group CEO Hervé Guillou will meet to formalize the deal announced in October to create a 50-50 joint venture to build and market naval vessels, as well share supply chains, research and testing.

The deal falls short of a share swap between the firms envisioned by officials, but has already ushered in the French use of an Italian design for its new logistics vessel, with some work to be undertaken in Italy. The two firms will also collaborate on upgrades for the Horizon class frigates Italy and France built together and both operate. The joint venture, which will be headquartered in Genoa, Italy, will also work on plans for a new 3,000 ton ‘European patrol corvette,’ the source said.

Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.

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