On 13 July 2020, the first prototype of the Leonardo M-346 LFFA light combat aircraft made its first flight from Leonardos factory field Venegono. In 2016, Leonardo launched a programme to develop the M-346 (basic) trainer as a combat aircraft, an evolution which had been planned for the design already. In July 2016, The Fighter Trainer version was launched at the Farnborough Airshow.
The Fighter Trainer was a development from the M-346AJT (Advanced Jet Trainer), which was further evolved into the new M-346FA (Fighter Attack) version. This version features the introduction of reinforcement of the airframe, some elements of the wing, and the rear fuselage section. The aircraft can be equipped with a variety of missiles, cannons and guided bombs making it an ideal light attack aircraft. The M-346FA was a further evolution of a family concept designed to create a common base able to answer to the different air forces requirements.
The prototype closely resembles the M-346AJT with the addition of two wing-tip missile rails, that bring the total hard-points to seven, new antennas on the nose and under the fuselage and the Defensive Aid Sub System. The M-346FT integrates a wide range of systems and sensors for tactical support and air defence, a tactical data link, a self-defence system, recognition and targeting sensors and a series of weapon systems.
The M-346 LFFA maintains the air-to-air refuelling capability of the M-346 AJT, being able to perform about two and half hours missions at about 500 nm from the home-base, depending on the mission type and the use of external fuel tanks.
The aircraft, which proposed for Homeland Defence/Air Policing, Slow Mover Intercept, Close Air Support, Counter Insurgency, Forward Air Controller – Airborne, Combat Search And Rescue, Interdiction, Battlefield Air Interdiction, Tactical Air Support for Maritime Operations and Tactical Reconnaissance roles, can carry more than 2,000 kg of weapons.
Several air forces have already expressed their interest in the latest development of the M-346. With its increased pylons for external loads, the M-346FA will also be able to operate very effectively as a multi-role tactical aircraft, capable of air-to-surface, air-to-air and tactical reconnaissance missions. With the first production prototype CPX625, the M-346FA has been renamed LFFA (Light Fighter Family of Aircraft).