The third edition of Czech-led international Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) exercise Ample Strike kicked off in the Czech Republic this week. For the next three week, no less than seventeen Allied and Partnership for Peace nations train their JTACs, aircrew and ground units in realistic, complex and demanding scenarios.
Ample Strike is aimed at providing realistic training for controllers on the ground in a combat environment. “It offers the perfect venue for effective collaboration between air and ground, forces preparing them to respond to joint missions whenever needed,” said Czech Air Force Commander Jaromir Sebesta. The exercise continues the tradition of similar exercise Ramstein Rover in Germany.
Taking part are a total of 34 aircraft from Lithuania, Slovenia, Germany, Poland, Hungary and the US, plus troops from even more countries. The US sends B-1B and B-52H long range bombers, operating from Fairford airbase in the UK. Most aircraft operate from airbases within the Czech Republic.
Novelty Adding to exercise complexity and a novelty for Ample Strike, are air-to-air refuelling missions during tactical strike and bomber missions. US Air Force KC-135R tankers will refuel
not only the German Tornado jets, Czech and Hungarian Gripen aircraft, but also the US strategic bombers.
Last year, Ample Strike achieved a record 1600 control runs, allowing JTACs to keep up their skills of controlling aircraft in support forces on the ground. In 2016, Ample Strike is not about exceeding this number, but about providing even more complex and challenging integrated scenarios.
UPDATED 27 January | Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic all are on the verge of replacing their fleets of Mil Mi-8/17 transport helicopters as well as Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters. Although each country seems to be heading down a different path, Bell Helicopter offers potentials for a joint program.
Update: according to Poland’s deputy defense minister on 26 January, a deal for Caracal helicopters now looks ‘very unlikely’.
In Poland, a multirole rotorcraft tender was won last year by Airbus Helicopters’ H225 Caracal, but after a change of government negotiations regarding offset investments are still ongoing. A spokesperson at Airbus Helicopters on Friday stated that ‘things seems to be moving in the right direction again’.
In the neighbouring Czech Republic, the air force flies 16 quite modern transport Mil Mi-171Sh helos, acquired from Russia in 2005 and recently upgraded with new communication, navigation and electrooptical equipment. The Czechs expect their Mi-171s to be used for at least one more decade, after which new helos will take their place as well as the place of current Mi-24 attack choppers. The new helicopters must be able to carry six to eight soldiers and be fitted out with guns plus guided and unguided rockets.
Previous plans of buying 12 machines are now revised in favour of a larger batch of 30-35 helicopters, due to better funding available in short term. Last year Czech MoD issued an request for information (RFI) to manufacturers of medium multirole helicopters; all Western producers responded with offers. Italian AgustaWestland offered the AW139, while Bell Helicopters is offering a tandem of its UH-1Y Venom and AH-1Z Viper used by the United States Marines Corps (USMC). Airbus Helicopters will most probably offer the Caracal just like it did in Poland, or the nine ton AS532ALe Cougar.
A preselection of preferred candidates is expected during the first half of 2016, with first deliveries planned a year or two later. Taking into account the strong presence of Bell Helicopters on the Czech civil rotorcraft market and police aviation using five Bell 412 helicopters, the UH-1Y is seen as strong contender. Bell in its offer underscores the possibility of establishing a joint Czech-Polish maintenance and training center if Poland also selects the Viper as a future attack chopper.
As for industrial offset, there’s rather small chance of licence production of selected type in Czech Republic, but some overhaul capabilities may be handed over to Czech industry. AgustaWestland has already signed an Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with LOM Praha for maintenance support, provided AW139 is selected.
Slovakia is not leasing or buying Saab Gripen fighter jets and neither is it seeking a joint Gripen unit with the Czech Republic anymore. According to local media this week, funds don’t allow for eight JAS39 Gripens to be leased or purchased.
In Slovakia, the Saab Gripen would have replaced a small fleet of ageing MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets that have been in service since the late eighties. The country is now looking to keep eight MiGs in the air for longer, with contacts already with Russian suppliers.
Czech Gripens may still be called upon in case this change of plans leads to reduced serviceability of Slovakian MiGs. The Czechs would be able to guard Slovakian airspace for roughly three months.
UPDATED 4 November | Eight former Czech Air Force L-159 Alca trainer and light attack aircaft are heading to Iraq in November. They will join the Iraqi Air Force in a deal brokered by US company Draken International. A total of 21 Aero Vodochody L-159 will transfer to Draken International, with an initial eight of those moving on to Iraq. Four more are to follow, plus three spares.
UPDATE | The first L-159s left the Czech Republic on Wednesday 4 November, wearing Iraqi markings. See pics below.
The deal has been in the works for quite some time, with negotiations lasting 18 months and signatures finally inked in 2014. The number of aircaft sold varied a little while talks lasted, but both parties settled for 21 in the end. The Czech Air Force still has 24 L-159 Alcas in service with 212 squadron at Čáslav airbase.
Czech Air Force Saab Gripen pilots this weekend honored their combined total of 20,000 flight hours on the Saab JAS39 Gripen. The milestone was celebrated during the Ostrava NATO Days airshow. The flight hours were accumulated during ten years of flying the Gripen. Back then, the Czechs were the first to trade their Soviet style MiGS for Western style fighter aircraft.
Saab’s Deputy CEO Lennart Sindhal presented a commemorative glass plaque to the 211. taktické letky (tactical squadron) to mark its 20,000 Gripen flight hours and successful operational deployments within NATO. Recent deployments to Iceland were also recognised. The award was accepted by Colonel Petr Hromek, commander of the 21st Air Force Base, Čáslav.
The Czechs were alread known to be the most extensive user of Saab’s fighter aircraft. Their Gripens fly more hours than even their Swedish coounterparts. The Czech Air Force Saab Gripen fleet is fourteen strong, including twelve single seat C-models and two two seater D-models.