After a close, three-year-long competition, the decision has been made: The next instructional plane of the IAF is the Italian M-346. The IAF has determined that the Italian plane is superior to the Korean in most parameters. One of the main dilemmas regarding the choice of the Italian plane had to do with its crash in Dubai, but the IAF received a detailed analysis of the circumstances of the accident. The debrief concluded that the accident occurred as a result of a manufacturing issue that occurred only in the prototype planes, and that it was later fixed in the manufacturing line of the next planes.
The training of air crew members is one of the main issues in building aerial power, and in the past two years the IAF has searched for a replacement for the A-4 Skyhawk, which is used to train cadets in the combat division. The main thought behind the decision is superior preparation of the flight cadets for the operational combat planes that await them at the squadrons.
Two planes were considered, both of which were built as instructional planes: one from Korea (T-50) with many flight hours logged and the other from Italy (M-346), a new plane with two engines. Head of the Instructional Division, Colonel C', talks about the considerations taken into account when choosing an instructional planes, about the importance of a new plane and also about his personal experience flying the Korean plane.
Why replace the instructional plane?
"There are two main reasons to replace the Skyhawk. The first is that it is an old plane that has been flying for us already for 40 years. As a result, it suffers from usability issues. Without a significant financial investment its future of service in the force is limited, it cannot serve the IAF for many more years.
The second reason is the gap between the first instructional plane that cadets fly on and the operational plane they eventually fly when they complete their training. It's a tremendous difference between the T-6 Texan II and the F-15 or F-16. The Skyhawk, which is the middle stepping stone, is too similar in its abilities to the instructional planes at the flight academy and too far from the operational combat planes.
The new instructional plane will minimize that gap. Although there will still be a gap in the capabilities, power or maneuverability of the plane, but it'll be smaller and the move to operational planes will be more gradual.
The length of training of air crew members, pilots and navigators, is long and complex. As we go through the evaluation process before integrating the new instructional plane we have a chance to improve this phase in order that the process of operational training will be of higher quality".
What are the parameters that are examined when searching for a new instructional plane?
"When we examine a plane for instructional purposes, we look at its instructional mantle. How it trains, what are its training capabilities, and what are its flight-examination abilities. Another parameter we examine is the security level of the plane.
The two planes we tested, the Italian and the Korean, are at a better point than the Skyhawk in all these parameters. They have better capabilities from the instructional standpoint as well as a high security level".
How will the new plane impact simulator training?
"An inseparable part of the deal is the purchasing of a simulator. We haven't decided how many will arrive but there are going to be more than one, and this is definitely an important part. The new simulator will be 'flown' much more often than the Skyhawk simulator".
What is the difference between the Korean plane and the Italian plane?
"I flew the Korean plane and it's a lot like the F-16. In that aspect it has many advantages, seeing as it is easy to get used to the plane and continue f\ from it directly to the F-16. Of course, it is a little smaller and less powerful, but it is similar to the F-16 in its operation.
The Italian plane is a combination. It integrates the F-16, the F-15 and the Eurofighter. It's a dual-engine aircraft while the Korean plane has one engine, which is an important security aspect, but has less experience than the Korean aircraft which is already serving as an instructional plane.
We weighed each pro and con: in suitability, capabilities, security, instruction and readiness and arrived at the conclusion that in spite of the lack of experience, the Italian plane is preferable. It already looks on to the F-35 and can be compatible with training for it. It prepares us better for the future, and that was also a consideration".
Will Israeli systems be installed on the plane when it arrives?
"We're planning on adapting the plane to our needs, as well as adding Israeli systems that the cadets can get to know and practice on before they are acquainted with operational combat planes".
And what about an instructional helicopter?
"We're now considering the idea of purchasing an instructional helicopter, but the considerations are a little different. Today the UH-60 Black Hawk and the Cobra suffice for all instructional needs, with the next step being the CH-53 Sea Stallion on the Apache. That said, the rationale behind bringing an instructional helicopter is minimizing the load weighing on the operational squadrons that are also responsible for training the helicopter pilots. Right now, practice in operational squadrons is being hurt by the matter, and therefore the process of bringing in an operational helicopter has begun".
When are the first planes going to arrive?
"We're expecting the first load to arrive in 2014, and in 2015 they will already be serving as instructional planes".