Following Leonardo’s attendance at the Air Power Symposium in Cairo at the end of last year, it has been reported that the company is on the verge of winning a contract to supply its M-346 advanced jet trainer to the Egyptian Air Force. Egypt is increasingly looking to the West for the purchase of defence equipment, and recently placed a follow-on order for 30 Dassault Rafales to augment the 24 delivered between 2015 and 2017. The new order will make Egypt the second largest operator of the type after the French Armée de l'Air et de l'Espace.
That order may be linked to Egypt’s recent decision to abandon the purchase of 24-28 Sukhoi Su-35s in the face of the real possibility of US sanctions which would be likely to be applied under CAATSA (Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) legislation.
A batch of 24 Eurofighter Typhoon fighters also reportedly formed one element within a US $10 Bn contract that was reportedly negotiated with Italy in 2020. This was also said to have included four FREMM frigates, 20 corvettes, 24 M346 jet trainers, and a surveillance satellite.
When Egypt’s fast jet force looked likely to be centred around a force of 46 MiG-29M2s and 28 Su-35s, its current advanced jet trainer, the Sino-Pakistani K-8E, seemed adequate, at least in the short term, and replacing the type with a Russian or East European trainer would have held many attractions.
With more Western fighters in its inventory (Egypt still operates the survivors of 220 F-16s delivered between 1982 and 2015, in addition to the Rafales, Mirage 2000s and possible Typhoons) it obviously makes more sense to procure Western training aircraft, and the M-346 Master would be well suited to training new Egyptian Rafale and Typhoon pilots, though Leonardo is also offering the smaller, lighter, M345.
Egypt has already evaluated the Leonardo M346 Master, the Korea Aerospace Industries/Lockheed Martin T-50 Golden Eagle and the Irkut/Rosoboronexport Yak-130.
It is, however, possible that Egypt could pursue a more radical solution, acquiring a turboprop trainer that could theoretically be used to take students all the way to the lead-in fighter training (LIFT) phase.
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