ITALIAN AIR FORCE BASE LECCE, Italy — The Italian Air Force has launched its first training course using the M-346 trainer, combining the aircraft and simulators in an integrated set-up that manufacturer Alenia Aermacchi is touting as the perfect template for the US T-X jet trainer competition.

The 10-month, Phase FourIV course for Lead-In fighter pilot training kicked off on Aug. 31 with four student pilots, while two trainee instructors, including a Dutch instructor, startinged training on Aug. 3 at the Italian Air Force’s Lecce base in southern Italy, which is home to five M-346 aircraft.

Crucially, the new syllabus is 50 percent based on simulator training, thanks to a Ffull mMission simulator, a slightly less realistic Ppart tTask tTrainer and nine computer screen-based Ssimulator Bbased Ttraining (SBT) systems. The base is also set to introduce a so-called live, virtual and constructive training (LVC) system, developed by Alenia Aermacchi, which will allow a pilot flying a simulator to network with a real trainer in flight, viewing the aircraft on the screen, while the pilot in the real trainer will "see" the simulated aircraft on a helmet-mounted display thanks to the real aircraft’s embedded simulation systems.

"Alenia has shown it can create a tailored integrated training system, involving aircraft, full mission simulators, didactic devices and LVC for air forces, that could easily be adopted for the T-X program," said an Alenia official, who added that LVC could form a focus of a T-X training system.

Alenia's M-346 was widely considered out of the T-X competition earlier this year when requirements for a pending competition were published, which allegedly raised the bar too high for the Italian aircraft. Adding to the firm's woes, its US partner on the bid, General Dynamics, pulled out, leaving Alenia seeking a new partner.

But the Alenia official, who declined to be named, said Alenia the Italian company was still in the game.

"In the T-X requirement document there was a lack of clarity about sustained G performance, but a clarification was issued at the start of July, and after test flights we are satisfied the 346 meets the demands," he said.

Meanwhile, at Lecce, the twin-engined trainer, dubbed T-346 by the Italians, will edge out the older Aermacchi 339C now used in Phase IV training by the end of 2016 or start of 2017, with eight of the new aircraft due in service by March and nine or ten10 by the end of 2016.

Meanwhile, a second CAE full mission simulator will be acquired, which, like the first, allows pilots to use night vision goggles, a helmet-mounted display, a G-suit and a breathing system. A second part task trainer will also be acquired, which will provide an image spanning 220 degrees in azimuth and 90 degrees in vertical.

In the air, the embedded simulation on the aircraft, based on its datalink, provides the pilot with simulated radar, targeting pods, an electronic warfareEW suite, missile warning and other systems. Consequently, the new Phase IV course built around the aircraft uses only 40 percent of the syllabus used hitherto, with the remainder written from scratch, said the Italian Air Force official who created it.

"We just kept the basic blocks and developed the rest," he said.

In the new syllabus, the number of simulator sorties rises from 27 to 90 and may rise again with the arrival of LVC simulation next year. Beyond-visual-range training will all be performed on simulators, while simulators will take care of 70 percent of instrument-flying training, 60 percent of basic low-level training and 60 percent of precision-guided munition training.

But in the new syllabus, real sorties also rise, from 73 to 90 in the new syllabus.

"With the embedded simulation on board, our goal is to download 20 to 30 percent of flying time from the Ooperational Cconversion Uunit training that pilots do on their main aircraft, meaning cost cutting because the T-346 costs less to fly," the Air Force official said. "If we download OCU sorties, we can free up time for pilots to do more advanced training at the OCU stage." he added.

As a result, Italian Phase IV training has increased from six to 10 months.

The introduction of the T-346 at Lecce follows the arrival of trainee pilots and instructors from various nations at the school, including Argentina, Austria, France, Greece, Kuwait, Holland the Netherlands and Singapore.

Soon, 16 Polish trainee instructors will arrive to learn the ropes of the 346, which Poland has now purchased to train its own pilots. In the future, classes will be able to accomodate eight trainee pilots, the Air Force official said.

Poland, Israel, Singapore and Italy have now purchased the aircraft.

Meanwhile, Alenia Aermacchi recently promoted a fighter version of the M-346 in Poland.

"Configuration is almost frozen and we are talking to several countries outside the EU," a company source said.

Armaments considered for the fighter version include the JDAM Joint Direct Attack Munition, AIM 9, a gun pod, rockets and laser-guided bombs as well as a targeting pod.