Italy to double fighter pilot training capacity in 2022

Obviously Italian defense news has been extraordinarily dense in recent months. After announcing the increase in the army budget of 10% in 2021, and establishing very important operational ambitions for its 3 armies, Rome has just announced the upcoming opening of a New Training Center to train Italian and foreign fighter pilotes at the base of Decimomannu, on the south coast of Sardinia, not far from Cagliari. The Italian Air Force plans to train 80 fighter pilots per year, compared to a maximum capacity of 40 per year today at the Galatina base, on the Adriatic coast not far from Brindisi.

The Italian training of fighter pilots is broken down into 4 iterative Phases, going from initial flight training (Phase 1) to advanced training on weapon aircraft (Phase 4). Today, phases 2, 3 and 4 were carried out at Galatina, respectively on aircraft MB339 for phase 2 and 3, and T346A for phase 4. Only the T346A of Phase 4 will be moved to Decimomannu, Phases 2 and 3 remaining in Galatina, and replacing their MB339 by M345s ordered from Leonardo. The M345 is a light two-seater single-engine jet designed for fighter pilot training, comparable in performance to the Franco-German Alpha-Jet. The T346 is the training version of the M346 attack jet. This aircraft, one of the best in its category, has avionics and capabilities very close to those of modern weapon planes, such as the Typhoon, Rafale or F35, without however equaling them, but for a cost of ownership much lower than the latter.

The Italian Air Force will replace its MB339s with 18 M345s designed and manufactured by Leonardo for the initial training of fighter pilots

Undoubtedly, the training offered by Italy will benefit from the most efficient devices in Europe. The German Air Force still uses the T38 and T6 for this purpose, as France and Spain have decided to replace their alpha-jets with PC-21 Pilatus, a two-seater aircraft powered by a turboprop that, if effectively offers a cockpit close to that of a fighter plane, is however very far from offering performance in terms of speed, ceiling, or rate of climb, comparable to the Italian M346.

With 18 M345s and as many T346s in the fleet, the Italian air forces will not only be able to train their own pilots more and better, but they will also be able to accommodate a large number of foreign student pilots, a policy that was previously that of France, and which made it possible, in addition to maintaining strong links with the staffs and armies of many countries, to promote the national aeronautics industry over the long term. Today, the majority of these countries have turned to the United States to train their student pilots, this partly explaining the American tropism of a large part of the officers of the European air forces. Even the French naval Air Force has made this choice for its fighter pilots, who now leave for Pensacola barely completing their flight selection at Lanveoc-Poulmic. A few years earlier, the student fighter pilots of the French Navy carried out a common course with the Air Force on TB-21 Epsilon at the Cognac air base, then in Tours on Alpha-jet, before going into navalization in the USA.

The cockpit of the T346 used for the advanced training of Italian fighter pilots has nothing to envy that of modern weapon planes

The military training offer is a key capability for a country's influence in the world, and its ability to make its own armed forces interact with those of other countries. As such, the major European military schools welcome several hundred foreign trainees each year, partly from European exchanges, but also from the United States, Canada, and many friendly countries, in Africa, the Middle East, in Asia or South America. This offer thus forms a major pillar of strategic autonomy, for each country as well as for Europe itself. In fact, the Italian announcement will undoubtedly help to strengthen this notion, as well as its announcements in favor of strengthening its armies.

Because if Rome is less radical in its perception of European strategic autonomy than France can be, in particular by participating in programs in the United States and by agreeing to acquire certain US equipment such as the F35, the policy of This defense seems, for its part, to be largely in favor of this strategic autonomy, in many areas. Above all, and like Great Britain, it seems that Italy has integrated the crucial role that its defense, and especially its defense industry, can represent in the economic recovery of the country, and the fight against unemployment. .

The Air Force PC21 Pilatus simultaneously replaced the Epsilon planes intended for basic training and the Alpha-jets for the advanced training of fighter pilots.

This is probably why the country will devote, unlike France, part of the European recovery plan, precisely to financing these various points. If France and Germany continue to rely on their paradigm linking the management of the defense effort to the sole criterion of expenditure, it is very likely that within a few years, Italy and the United Kingdom will have caught up with and even overtaken the Franco-German couple in this area. Certainly for the benefit of European defense, but certainly not for that of jobs in France ...

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