Iraq Selects Aero Vodochody L-159 for Training Needs

 - October 19, 2012, 11:00 AM
The Czech Air Force operates the L-159A (seen here during an exercise in Sweden this year) as a light attacker, and the L-159T1 as an advanced trainer. (Photo: David Donald)

Iraq has agreed to acquire 28 Aero Vodochody L-159 advanced trainer/light attack aircraft from the Czech Republic, the two countries announced on October 15.

A price of $1 billion has been associated with the L-159 deal, which appears high when comparing the platform price with competitors such as the BAE Systems Hawk. However, the scope of the deal, which includes spares and support, has not been released. The L-159s will complete the Iraqi Air Force’s fixed-wing trainer fleet, providing the link between its turboprop trainers (the Utva Lasta-95 and Hawker Beechcraft T-6) and its forthcoming front-line fighter, the Lockheed Martin F-16IQ.

Iraq will receive 24 new-build L-159BQs and four “free” L-159T1s that are surplus to Czech Air Force requirements. The latter will be delivered in approximately seven months to allow operations to get under way, while deliveries of the new-build aircraft are scheduled to begin in late 2014. Iraq’s new aircraft will be an updated high-spec version based on the single L-159B two-seater prototype that first flew in 1997 with avionics integrated by Boeing.

Aero Vodochody built 72 L-159s for the Czech Air Force, in single-seat L-159A ALCA (advanced light combat aircraft) configuration, with avionics housed in the empty rear cockpit space and Selex Galileo Grifo-L radar. However, only 24 entered service (with unit at Caslav from April 2000) and the remainder were placed in storage. In March 2007 Aero flew an L-159A converted to a basic-spec two-seater configuration as the L-159T1, and a number of L-159As have been taken out of storage and modified to this standard to provide the Czech Air Force with an advanced trainer. Four of these aircraft will be provided to Iraq and will be replaced in Czech service by four new conversions.

Since the process of creating a single L-159T1 consumes two surplus L-159As and only 32 L-159As remain in storage, no more than 16 L-159T1 trainers can be produced. As noted, four of them are already earmarked as replacements for the early Iraqi deliveries, and the Czech Air Force will use the remaining 12 to replace the L-39 Albatros trainer when it retires in around 2016.

The L-159 announcement comes a week after Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Maliki was in Moscow, where, according to Iraqi media, a $4.2 billion deal was agreed. That deal might include attack helicopters (Mi-28N or Mi-35M) and Pantsir-S1 air defense systems.