The L-159 Light Attack Jet to serve with the USAF?

The L-159 Light Attack Jet to serve with the USAF?
Author: Jan Kouba, Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces of the Czech Republic|Caption: L-159 ALCA
18 / 05 / 2018, 11:15

The Aero L-159 ALCA is a light attack subsonic jet derived from the worldwide popular L-39/59 trainers. The Aero Vodochody will team with Israeli Aerospace Industries and the aim is to improve and market the L-159s, both partners declared the interest to take part in the American OA-X program, or the Light Attack Program. Shall we see the ALCAs serving with the USAF?

The Aero L-159 ALCA (Advanced Light Combat Aircraft) is a light attack subsonic jet derived from the worldwide popular L-39/59 trainers, developed between 1994 and 1997. The Czech Army placed an order for 72 single seated L-159A variants in 1995, meant as replacements for the soviet era MiG-23, Su-22 and Su-25 attack and fighter-bomber planes.

45 MiG-23s (BN and MF variants) were retired in 1994, 25 MiG-23s (ML and U variants) were retired in 1998. In 2000 the Army, expecting high operation costs of the new L-159, retired 24 well-proven Su-25s, and the deliveries of the 72 ALCAs took place between 2000 and 2003; finally the last Su-22M4s were retired from service with the Czech Army and in 2010 most of them were sold to Yemen.

Relatively high operation costs of the L-159, the total cost of the entire project (reaching over USD 1.6 billion), together with absence of two-seat trainers (L-159B variant) forced reduction of active planes serving within the Czech Air Force down to 24; some were converted to two-seat L-159Ts and the other planes were placed in storage, and most of them were sold to either military of civilian operators. Those were the Iraqi Air Force that bought 14 L-159s in 2015 (12 L-159As and 2 L-159Ts) and used them with success against ISIL/ISIS in Fallujah and Mosul. The Spanish EADS-CASA company exchanged four CASA C-295s for three L-159As, two L-159T1s and 130 million Euros, reselling the As to Lewis Fighter Fleet LLC (Texas) later. Another 20 L-159s are being sold to Draken International Inc., a civilian U.S. company which cooperates with the US military for the training of American pilots (12 were delivered by summer 2017), these are specifically modified to meet Draken’s performance requirements and operate as L-159E export variant.

The Czech Air Force currently has 16 L-159As with the 212th Tactical Squadron, and 5 L-159T1s with 213th Training Squadron (ALCA-trainers serve together with the L-39ZAs Albatros). The L-159 ALCAs are considered to be capable aircraft; they can carry targeting pods and laser-guided bombs, air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, rockets, conventional bombs. The plane can be operated from any prepared or unprepared airstrip, during the day or night, in any weather; and compared to supersonic or heavy attack jets they offer a relatively cheap alternative well fitted for basic air patrols and counterinsurgency operations.

Among the difficulties the producer has to face when it comes to offer the plane for export the most important one is that the L-159s are equiped with American military technologies, such as its avionics, Honeywell F124 engine, and most of its weapons. These require US government approval for export under US ITAR laws (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) which restrict and control the export of defence and military related technologies to safeguard U.S. national security and further U.S. foreign policy objectives.

And now a most interesting option appeared. The Aero Vodochody will team with Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) and the aim is to improve and market the L-159s (and the L-39NGs). The team plans to integrate new avionics and other solutions on the L-159 platform as well as jointly market the aircraft. The L-159 already features several systems from IAI companies, including an Elta multirole radar, which engances the plane’s air-to-ground and air-to-air combat capabilities. They will also integrate IAI’s virtual training solutions as part of the L-39NG training system.

And Aero together with the IAI declared their interest to take part in the American OA-X program, or the Light Attack Program. The program is meant to provide the US Air Force with efficient airpower together especially with the ability to preserve its more advanced aircraft for conflicts involving major powers. The aim of the program is to find a relatively cheap plane with low operation costs to be deployed in regions where the enemy does operate advanced AA technologies, and a plane which can also offer good solutions for training of new pilots.

Currently there are two finalists: the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6B and the A-29 Super Tucano, both are turboprop aircrafts; the decision has not been taken yet, there are other competitors as well, and the L-159, especially when upgraded with the IAI technologies, could be considered as offering several advantages. The aircraft has seen combat, precisely in the role the OA-X program is aimed at. It already is in use with US based operators, the „Red Air“ providers Lewis Fighter Fleet LLC and the Draken International Inc. The jet attack plane, compared to a turboprop one, car carry heavier loads of ammunition (empty weight is 4,350 kg and maximum take of weight is 8,000 kg for the L-159, vs 2,612 kg and 4,536 kg in case of the AT-6B).

Whatever the result of this particular project will be, a renewal of production of the L-159 ALCA would be good news for Aero Vodochody and IAI, and the aircraft certainly has potential to serve well in it’s primary roles: light attack and trainer jet.


Further reading:

Czech L-159s: Cheap to Good Home on DefenseIndustryDaily

USAF rejects Scorpion for OA-X, names A-29 and AT-6 finalists on FlightGlobal

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