The first “Bielik” aircraft (Polish name of the M-346 airframe) appeared in Poland back in 2016. Nonetheless, the handing off procedure did not begin until 2017. Delivery of these aircraft is a result of an Agreement signed back in 2014, with the Italian Alenia Aermacchi company. The contract value has been defined as 1.432 billion zlotys (gross). The agreement includes eight M-346 Master jets, along with a training and logistics package. In March this year another agreement has been signed in Warsaw, pertaining to acquisition of another four examples of the M-346 Bielik advanced jet trainers. The Agreement, with a net value exceeding 1 billion zlotys, also includes a logistics support package, enhancement of the simulators functionality and optional procurement of another 4 aircraft.
As admitted by numerous experts, including the former rector of the Dęblin Polish Air Force Academy, General, Pilot, Jan Rajchel, 16-18 jets constitute a bare minimum to provide advanced training for the pilots that are educated in Poland. The decision to procure only 8 jets in 2014 had its reasoning embedded in economy, not practice - which has been emphasized by Defence24.pl back in March this year.
M-346 Master jets constitute only one of the building blocks of the ITS (Integrated Training System) solution that also includes, alongside the jet, the GBTS (Ground Based Training System) component. Real time simulation (LVC, Live-Virtual-Constructive) constitutes a core of the ITS, making it possible to correlate the simulator and the jet staying in the air and conducting a mission. This translates into an ability to conduct joint training between the persons flying the simulators on the ground and the aircraft remaining in the air.
M-346 has been fitted with the ETTS (Embedded Tactical Training System) which simulates tactical training and replicates the operation of sensors, systems and weapons used by the existing combat aircraft. The aforesaid solutions also makes it possible to create tactical scenarios, simulate airborne, maritime and land-based units (friends or foes), through a real time interaction with the trainer aircraft. The jet that is airborne may be coupled with a number of GBTSs designed for Masters. The Polish M-346 jets are also to expand the scope of operational use, being involved in combined operations with the F-16 jets and simulating the adversary during the air-to-air engagements.
The M-346 is expected to replace the TS-11 Iskra jets that are to be withdrawn over the next 2 years. Meanwhile, the M-346 stage of training envisages the pilots flying the Master for 80 to 120 hours, including 50 hours on a simulator. Then the pilot would be able to get training that would allow him to make a direct transition to the F-16C/D Block 52+ MRCA.
The year 2018 is going to be devoted to training and development of the skills of the Polish M-346 instructor pilots. The training programme is expected to be verified in December, with flights with the NCOs planned to begin in 2019.