Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has made a prolific visit to Italy this week, reaching more than a dozen agreements, including in the defense sector.
A contract with Italy’s airplane manufacturer and defense corporation Leonardo was just one of the 17 agreements signed by representatives from Baku and Rome. Under the deal, Leonardo’s M-346 cutting-edge trainer jets are being purchased by Azerbaijan’s defense ministry.
“It will be a very big deal to be implemented by Leonardo,” President Aliyev said, referring to a memorandum of understanding signed with the Italian defense giant, according to the president’s official website. “This will be the opening of a new page in our collaboration, which is a very promising project. Because we are at the stage of modernizing our defense infrastructure.”
Azerbaijani Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov and Leonardo Executive Director Alessandro Profumo exchanged a ‘declaration by agreement’ between the Ministry of Defence (MoD) of the Republic of Azerbaijan and Leonardo for the acquisition of “an integration system for M-346 aircraft”, the website for the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, announced.
No details pertaining to a contract value or delivery timelines were disclosed.
In May 2017 Leonardo showcased its Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master trainer aircraft to top Azeri military officials. While the number of aircraft was also not revealed, in July 2019 Leonardo chief executive Alessandro Profumo said that his company had signed a deal for six M-346FA light attack aircraft with a major “international customer”.
No customer for that deal has yet been formally disclosed, and the Azerbaijan Air Force (AzAF) and Air Defence Force is known to have a pressing requirement to augment and replace its Soviet-era MiG-29 ‘Fulcrum’, Sukhoi Su-25 ‘Frogfoot’, and Aero Vodochody L-39 jets. If the earlier announced deal was for Azerbaijan, then it was likely an initial order given the numbers involved. A follow-on order to cover about 50 MiG-29s, Su-25s, and L-39s in service with the AzAF would likely be placed.
The M-346 is an advanced jet trainer that comes fitted with nine hardpoints (four under each wing and one on the centreline for an optional cannon pod), the M-346 can carry a range of ‘dumb’ and ‘smart’ munitions, such as Mk 82/83/84 unguided bombs and GBU-12/16 and Opher Mk 82 guided bombs.