Turkmenistan Emerges As Undisclosed M-346FA Customer

Credit: State News Agency of Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan has emerged as the launch customer for the light attack version of Leonardo’s M-346 jet trainer after the country’s president took a flight in one of the aircraft shortly after delivery. 

Footage released by state news agency of Turkmenistan shows President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov boarding, taking off and flying on one of two M-346FA delivered to the country. The flight reportedly took place on Aug. 1.

The aircraft are based at an airfield in the westernmost Balkan region of the Central Asian country. 

Turkmenistan is one of several countries to which the M-346 was flown and demonstrated in recent years. Leonardo revealed in 2020 that it had secured an undisclosed launch customer for six examples of the fighter attack version of the jet trainer. 

The Turkmen aircraft are painted in a distinctive blue camouflage scheme. During initial test flights in Italy they were flown in their camouflage but without Turkmenistani national markings. 

Berdimuhamedov said the introduction of the new aircraft was part of a program to “improve the working conditions of military personnel, to improve their skills in the management of advanced equipment, and to actively use innovative technologies and digital systems,” the state news agency of Turkimenstan reported. The agency said the new aircraft had multirole capabilities and could also perform reconnaissance flights. 

Leonardo has been developing a light attack version of the twin-engine jet trainer for the last six years. The M-346FA features the Grifo-M-346 multi-mode radar, a defensive aids suite with missile warning sensors and chaff flare dispenser buried in the wing roots, as well as a number of additional aerials for secure communications and tactical data link systems. Underwing and wing-tip pylons can carry a range of ordnance including air-to-air, air-to-ground missiles and bombs, as well as fuel tanks and targeting pods. 

Turkmenistan has previously operated a military fleet made up of Soviet-era combat aircraft including Sukhoi Su-25s and RAC MiG-29s. But Turkmenistan has been looking at Western types, with Aviation Week’s Fleet Discovery Data detailing the introduction of Embraer A-29 Super Tucanos, and orders for Leonardo-made AW139 twin-engine medium helicopters and the C-27J Spartan airlifter. 

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.