Aero Vodochody announced on January 19 that the last of 16 single-seat L-159 Advanced Light Combat Aircraft (ALCA) to undergo the planned prescribed periodic work after 16 years of operation (PP16) overhaul has been returned to operational Czech Air Force (CzAF) service.
Work on the final aircraft (serial 6070) was completed in December 2022, before it was subsequently handed back to the CzAF and returned to the 21st Tactical Air Base (TAB) – where the single-seat L-159s are operated by 212 and 213 Tacticka Letka (Tactical Squadron) – at Čáslav in mid-January. For the past two years, Aero Vodochody has made various technical improvements to the Czech ALCA fleet as part of the PP16 overhaul process, which was carried out to extend the viable operational lifespan of each of the 16 aircraft by another eight years.
Commenting on the upgrade, Viktor Sotona – president and CEO of Aero Vodochody – said: “To ensure the operational capability of the L-159 fleet and the defence of the Czech Republic, we delivered the repaired aircraft at regular intervals from September 2020 until the end of 2022, when we completed the repair of the last aircraft. The great advantage of [the] L-159 is their cost-effective operation, especially compared to supersonic aircraft, in a large number of different variants of combat tasks.”
As part of the so-called PP16 overhaul – which the Czech Ministry of Defence (MOD) contracted Aero Vodochody to conduct in 2019 – every part of the 16 single-seat L-159s was rigorously inspected and tested, including the aircraft’s cockpit instruments. In addition, the ALCAs were modified to permit the use of night-vision goggles (NVGs) and enhance the platform’s ability to conduct training/combat operations at night. This process included the modification of the aircraft’s cockpit and the installation of internal and external lighting kits. The L-159s also received a new Electronic Standby Instrument System (ESIS), which can be used to replace other instruments to provide pilots with critical flight data in the event that the aircraft’s conventional systems fail.
The ALCA entered operational service with the CzAF in September 2000, with 72 single-seat L-159s delivered in total. Of the 72 aircraft initially delivered, six examples were converted into dual-seat L-159T1s for pilot training purposes. These aircraft entered CzAF service in January 2007. Following this, five ALCAs – including three L-159s and two L-159T1s – were transferred to Airbus under a part-exchange deal for a C295M tactical transport, with the dual-seat examples later being returned to the CzAF as compensation for the late delivery of the C295M.
On November 29, 2013, the Czech government announced the planned sale of at least 14 (with another 14 available under an exercisable option) stored L-159s to US-based private defence contractor, Draken International. In total, 21 L-159s were sold to Draken International. Some of these have recently been transferred to the contractor’s European arm – Draken Europe – where they are based from Teesside International Airport in County Durham, UK, to provide adversary air training support for the Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) frontline fighter fleets.
Two years later – on March 9, 2015 – the Czech government approved the $29.68m sale of 15 ALCAs to Iraq, which comprised eight new-build examples from Aero Vodochody (seven L-159s and one L-159T1) and four from the active CzAF inventory (three L-159s and one L-159T1). In 2017, the first of five upgraded two-seat L-159T1+ trainers was returned to CzAF service. The dual-seat fleet was subsequently bolstered by the addition of three L-159T2s – rebuilt L-159As that had been converted into two-seat trainers – of which the first example entered CzAF service in 2019. At present, the Czech air arm operates a fleet of 16 L-159s, five L-159T1+ ALCAs and three L-159T2s.