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1/48 MB339 EI (WHIFF) a brief history of Aermacchi in the Irish Aircorps part 3

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The 1997 Price Waterhouse Review of the Naval Service and Air Corps recommended that the MB 326 and seven SF260WE's be replaced with eight examples of a single type training aircraft system.

A requirement for a new aircraft had been identified.

The decision was taken to convert 4 MB 326 to a dedicated reconnaissance version - the MB 326 EI-RE 


The Swiss Pilatus PC-9M was the first choice, a propeller aircraft with no realistic attack capability in any meaningful sense.


Then, in September 2001, events changed course.  It was readily apparent that air defense should not be left with the PC-9, which was in military terms on a par of performance with allied aircraft …….. That is to say, on a par performance in terms of allied aircraft towards the end of the 2nd world war.

On the afternoon of September 11, 2001 the Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach), Bertie Ahern ordered the "heads of the security services of key government departments" to undertake a complete re-evaluation of measures to protect the state from attack. Hence, underway within hours of the 9/11 outrage in the United States was potentially the most far-reaching review of Irish national security in decades.




Among the initial aircraft considered were the BAe Hawk, but at a 2003 unit cost in the region of GBP 18m was considered too expensive.

There were also concerns about the lead in time involving the purchase, transition and training period needed to reach active service


Other aircraft considered were the L-39 and in particular the L-159 at $9.5m with the Italian FIAR Grifo L multi-mode Doppler radar for all-weather, day and night operations, as well as it’s ASRAAM capability and fit to receive AMRAAM potential.

A third option seriously considered was what was referred to as the Austrian option – to lease, or buy and upgrade F-5E/F Tiger II with the option to buy and upgrade to S/T standard.



In 2002, during Ireland’s rugby tour of New Zealand, after quiet negotiations, it was announced that Ireland was to purchase 8 former RNZAF MB 339’s


The PC 9 M order was cancelled and the designated numbers applied to the new airframes starting with 260



Their availability, cost and sharing a Rolls Royce Viper turbojet engine with the MB 326 K was the major factor in the decision to purchase the aircraft, which had few air hours and a superb maintenance record.

In addition, the training and re-qualification of pilots to combat jet status could be achieved rapidly in the transfer agreement with the availability of the RNZAF instructor cadre.


For logistics and maintenance personnel, the transition to another very similar Aermacchi type was relatively straight forward. RNZAF personnel moved to Ireland for 6 months to provide training and advice. 

After negotiations with Aermacchi, a maintenance deal was reached to retain the Warriors in service as the basic trainer for IAC, the aircraft was still in production.


In mid 2002 the MB 339’s began their journey to Ireland, via Italy for upgrades to the aircraft in Italy.


The order for the Pilatus PC 9 M was cancelled and the designated numbers were transferred to the MB 339, beginning with serial 260. 

The Camoflage pattern adopted by the RNZAF was kept, being suitable for local Irish conditions. 


It proved so effective a B version, or mirror version a la Hurricane A/B patterns was adopted




The Aermacchi MB 339 were a quantum leap forward – with the ability carry air-to-air IR AIM-9L, air-to-surface AGM-65 Maverick, or Marte Mk IIA sea-skimming anti-ship missiles.


A provision for Marte IIS was retro-fitted to the P50 class and later designed into the P60 class vessels of the Irish Naval Service.

Having one system proved to be a very useful cost cutting measure.  


A huge leap forward was the electronic warfare suite including an Elettronica ELT-156 radar warning receiver, BAE Systems Integrated Defense Solutions (formerly Tracor) AN/ALE-40 chaff and flares dispensing system and Elettronica ELT-555 active electronic countermeasures (ECM) deception pod.

Additional Chaff and flare dispensers were integrated inboard of the ventral fin. This was insisted on following the loss of an MB 326 EI-RE in Chad



The militants who were believed to have fired the missile were pursued and destroyed by the MB 339’s, operating mostly at night, over the course of three days. 

Irish army ground units, including the Ranger wing were involved, closing in and engaging with MOWAG supported infantry. 

At the time, it was found that there was a real need for integrated artillery support. 


The shortcoming was to be finally addressed in 2020. 


The primary weapon used by the MB 339’s were AGM-65 Maverick which had been purchased from New Zealand. 

These were supplemented by SNEB rocket and unguided bombs.

Sudanese fighter jets were a concern, but the French Air force was able to provide fighter Combat Air Patrol to the east of where the Irish were operating.


It was clear that the cost of Maverick AGM-65 ( from USD $48,000 (A-model) to USD $269,000 for the G-model [FY 1999])  or even the Army’s FGM-148 Javelin missiles (an eye watering $106,000 per missile) for strikes on light trucks and small guerilla groups was prohibitive, and the use of unguided bombs with the presence of SAMs was considered too high risk.



The action led to Irelands purchase and deployment in 2013 of the Northrop Grumman (later MBDA systems) GBU-44/B from the US, a light glide bomb that allowed a sufficient stand-off capability, with an explosive yield that helped with the reduction of collateral damage.

The reason for the purchase was more to do with economics than humanity – a dossier called ‘The Cost of Killing’ making this clear was leaked by the Dept of Finance, being a cynical, but realistic calculation of cost and effect, it did create some controversy.


The GBU-44 bombs purchased could also be used by the Air Corps supporting C-130’s - The munitions could be dropped from the new pressurized "derringer door," which uses a side door in the fuselage that enables the aircraft to launch and reload munitions while the aircraft remains pressurized, 


But the very dubious C-130H 'procurement' or .aquisition' in 2012, and the events that led to it, is another story.


Now, in 2019 – after the lessons learned in UN missions, and an aging MB 399 fleet, the Aircorps have asked that a new Air Defense / strike aircraft be procured.


With a budget of 416m, and additional funding from the EU of 100m towards ‘military mobility’


Ireland’s contribution to the EU military structure may well be non-offensive, with Air and Sea transport being the biggest capital outlays envisioned.


EU PESCO requirements that came to the fore after the election of President Trump.



From the PESCO budget, as was done in the 80’s, EU funding can be made available to Ireland – primarily for Maritime policing.

The EU funding will not be used for armament, but rather platforms.

From this potential funding, the Aircorps wish to purchase surveillance and transport aircraft.

A proviso for purchase would be the purchase of EU built hulls and airframes.


The Aircorps would like a decision by 2021 – A package of air defense with increased transport and maritime patrol capability.


Of the Trojans, three are being offered with combined AEW / MPA capability and two as interchangeable transport / tanker. 

An advantage is the Aermacchi offering is also part of the US T-X program. If selected, this would greatly reduce future costs.


It is believed a lot of the decision will rest on the US T-X competition results.

The requirement for fixed wing procurement is to provide: Air Defense, Air Tactical Transport and ISAR

The light fighter / training requirement is yet to be decided. 


Aermacchi, after a 40 year history with the air corps offering the M346 Master  FA or FT (20m$) version for the air defense and strike role in a package with 4 C-27J Trojan to replace the Air corps aging CASA’s and, mostly for legal reasons, the C-130's -but that's another story, Sin Sceal Eile 

Edited by simonj
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