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IAF Reveals New Cutting Edge Training Jet

Two M-346 jet planes displayed Thursday; part of lucrative defense industry deal with Italy.
By Kobi Finkler, Ari Yashar
First Publish: 3/20/2014, 7:52 PM

The Israeli Air Force held a ceremony on Thursday to reveal its latest acquisition: two advanced M-346 jet planes from Italy.

Each plane costs an estimated 20 million euros (roughly $27.5 million); the IAF plans to purchase 30 of them. They are capable of speeds of mach 1.15 (roughly 875 miles per hour).

The plane, which is touted as "the integrated training solution for 21st century air forces," will be used in advanced courses for IAF fighter pilots. In that role as a training jet, the plane will replace the old Skyhawk planes at the Hatzerim training base.

The IAF decided to give the M-346 the Hebrew name "Lavi," meaning lion. The name hearkens to a line of Israel planes cancelled in the 1980s due to their heavy costs.

Israel's acquisition of the planes, with a contract to keep them at least 25 years, comes as part of a larger defense deal signed with Italy in July, 2012. For its part, Italy agreed to purchase upwards of 4 billion shekels' worth (roughly $1.1 billion) of Israeli military equipment.

The deal was meant to provide an influx of billions of shekels to Israel's defense industry, to allow advanced technological development, and to ensure work for Israelis in the defense industry.

Defense Ministry Moshe Ya'alon in February took part in the International Air Show in Singapore, where he praised Israel as being a military superpower, given the impressive displays of the Israeli Aerospace Industries at the show.

The M-346 joins the IAF's training array at a time when the air force is active on several fronts. Last week the IAF conducted air strikes on Gaza terror sites following a barrage of roughly 100 rockets starting last Wednesday.

Similarly, the IAF on Tuesday struck Syrian military targets that had aided terrorists in planting a bomb on the Israeli border earlier in the day, injuring IDF soldiers.