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, Hungarian and Swedish Saab JAS 39 Gripens fighters show themselves from every angle during exercise Lion Effort 2015 in the Czech Republic these days. In-flight pictures are a top priority for many. However, not all are aware of the effort and preparations that goes into air-to-air footage.
See here and here for more recent air-to-air footage on Airheadsfly.com.
The actual release of the camera shutter is the culmination of a complex process which eventually makes the day for some of the photographers who get the chance to zoom in on the Gripen flying over Čáslav airbase, where over two dozen Saab Gripens operate alongside each other for two weeks.
This photo shoot was attended by a total of five Gripen jets – one Czech and two Hungarian and Swedish each – as well as one Czech Air Force L-159 ALCA and a CASA C-295.
Preparations begin long before the aircraft are launched. It takes a lot of coordination for the fighter pilots to join up with a Czech Air Force CASA C-295 transport aircraft from Prague-Kbely airbase, carrying the photographers and their equipment – on a space available basis.
Planning the mission involves a pilot briefing to decide which jets will be chosen for the photo session. Subsequently the choreography of the birds is coordinated with the photographers. Together with the pilots they arrange formations that allow unique and visually interesting aspects.
When everything is sorted out and agreed, the participants – jet and transport aircraft crews, the photographers – have to wait for their take off times and hope that the weather will hold.
The top priority is always on the safety of all involved. Various other factors need to be taken into account such as the speed, positioning and altitude of the fighters and the photo platform. Therefore pilots have designed each passing manoeuvre and brought it to perfection – all pilots exactly know their role in the photo shoot.
Once airborne the CASA and Gripen pilots maintain radio contact permanently to handle any challenges that may occur. Everyone involved – the jet pilots and the transport aircraft crews as well as ground controllers and ground handling crews – did an excellent professional job. And as you can see for yourself, the results show.
Lion Effort continues until 23 May, when an airshow at Čáslav celebrates the end of the exercise as well as ten years of flying the Gripen in the Czech Republic.
In two months time, the Saab JAS 39 Gripen will roar during Lion Effort 2015 at Čáslav airbase in the Czech Republic. Taking part will be C and D model Gripens from the Czech Republic, Sweden and Hungary, while Thailand participates without aircraft. South Africa, present with its own aircraft during Lion Effort 2012 in Sweden, will not participate at all.
As Airheadsfly.com found out a year ago, Čáslav is already a Gripen’s lair, with all fourteen Czech Air Force aircraft based here. The Hungarian Air Force is sending aircraft from their base in Kecskemét and Sweden will send Gripen from one of its bases in Såtenäs, Ronneby or Luleå. The tri-annual exercise starts 11 May.
During Lion Effort 2012, Saab Gripens were practically the sole ingredient of the exercise. This time, there is more variety with German Eurofighter Typhoons and Polish Lockheed Martin F-16s also taking part, albeit from their respective home bases. Czech Air Force will L-159 ALCA from Čáslav will also play along, together with Mil Mi-17 Hip and Mil Mi-24 Hind helicopters from 22nd Helicopter Base Náměšt nad Oslavou and CASA C-295 from 24th Transport Air Base Kbely. Cooperation with foreign tanker aircraft is also being discussed.
Lion Effort 2015 therefore is the biggest flying exercise in the area this year, and is actually taking its toll on other well known military flying exercises such as NATO’s Tiger Meet, held this year at Konya airbase in Turkey. Both the Czech and Hungarian Gripen squadrons are members of NATO’s Tiger Association, but prefer to take part in Lion Effort 2015 over the Tiger Meet.
Busy The Czech Republic is looking to extend the role of its Gripens with an air-to-ground capability. Recently, the country ordered Litening III targeting pods. In 2014, the Czech Gripens were kept rather busy with guarding Icelandic skies. The Czech lease their Gripens from Sweden at an annual cost of about 58 million USD. Last year, Czech Air Force boss Libor Stefanik stated he would like to see six more Gripens leased, possibly for future cooperation with neighbouring Slovakia, which is also eying Saab Gripens.
The chance of seeing participating aircraft in Lion Effort 2015 from up close occurs on Thursday 14 May during an enthusiast’s day at Čáslav, or on Saturday 23 May during an all out airshow, which also serves to commemorate ten years of Saab Gripen service in the Czech Republic.
The Czech Air Force keeps its active combat fleet on 56 aircraft in 2015, the Czech Ministry of Defence acknowledged.
Spearhead of the force are 14 SAAB JAS 39C/D Gripen multi-role fighters, supported by 25 indigenous-developed Vodochody L-159 ALCAs. This brings the total fixed-wing combat aircraft fleet to 39. Closer to the ground 17 Mil Mi-24 and Mi-35 Hind attack helicopters provide a key function on the battlefield, giving the Czech a strenght of 56 aircraft.
Besides the combat aircraft the Czech Air Force in 2015 keeps 9 L-39 advanced training aircraft, 17 transport and observation aircraft (L-410, Yak-40, CL-601 Challenger, A319CJ, CASA/Airbus C295M), plus 35 unarmed transport helicopters (Mi-8, Mi-17 / Mi-171S, W-3A Sokol).
Source: Ministerstvo Obrany České Republiky (MOCR)
Draken International announced on 16 July 2014 it has finalised the expected deal with Czech aircraft manufacturer Aero Vodochody and the Czech Republic Ministry of Defense to purchase and regeneration of up to 28 Aero L-159E ALCA fighter aircraft.
These aircraft, which include some unique modifications, will give the American based company advanced training aircraft with 4th generation sensor capabilities.
Draken International CEO Jared Isaacman states, “This acquisition has been negotiated over the last 18 months and reflects the very finest in cooperation between the American and Czech Republic defense industries. These aircraft, in addition to Draken’s vast existing fleet, will be at the forefront of the advanced commercial air services industry in the United States and for our allies abroad.”
Draken International is a provider of commercial air services based out of the Lakeland Linder Regional Airport in Lakeland, Florida. The organization provides the US military and some of its allies with airborne adversary support, flight training, threat simulation, electronic warfare support, aerial refueling, research, testing, as well as other missions uniquely suited to their fleet of aircraft.
With a fleet of over 50 tactical fighter aircraft, the company owns and operates the largest privately-owned fleet of ex-military aircraft in the world. Draken employs military trained fighter pilots including USAF Weapons School Instructors, Fighter Weapons School Graduates, Top Gun Instructors, Air Liaison Officers, Thunderbird Demonstration pilots and FAC-A Instructors.
The Draken L-159E deal was already pre-approved by the Czech government in January this year, and initially 14 aircraft will be moved from storage to the US. The current deal includes the framework for the first Aero Vodochody approved maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) operation at Draken International’s Lakeland facility. Draken will also exclusively market the L-159 and future derivatives to customers in North and South American as well as undertake a portion of the aircraft manufacturing process in the United States. Additional services such as flight testing, training, avionics and tactical system integration will also be undertaken by Draken International. This historic partnership represents the first time Aero Vodochody and its aircraft will be marketed, assembled and completely supported outside of the Czech Republic.
Source: Draken International with additional reporting by Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger