L-159 fighter jets should replace drones in the army in the future

Petr Horník

The L-159 Alca fighter jets could replace drones in the army’s arsenal in the future after their technical lifetime. Jiří Táborský, head of the press department of the Ministry of Defence, said. He said if the Czech Republic buys two squadrons of F-35 supersonic aircraft from the United States, the number of L-159s will be reduced by one squadron.

Currently, the Czech Air Force has 24 L-159 Alca aircraft, eight of which are two-seaters. They are divided into two squadrons, the 212th Tactical Squadron and the 213th Training Squadron.

The government recently decided to pursue the procurement of modern F-35s. The cabinet authorized Defence Minister  Jana Černochová (ODS) to begin talks with the US government about purchasing 24 machines. Currently, the army has one squadron of Gripens at its disposal, but according to soldiers and experts, this is an insufficient number.

“Loungers” in storage 

The squadron of Gripen is supplemented by subsonic L-159s. The Czech Air Force took over 72 of them between 2000 and 2003. However, most of them remained preserved in the hangar, and the air force put only 28 aircraft into service, including four two-seat trainers.

In 2015, the surplus machines were sold. In addition to the Iraqi air force, 21 were acquired by the US firm Draken International, whose aircraft simulate an adversary in air combat training.

The lease of the Gripens from Sweden to the Czech army ends in 2027, after which it can exercise a two-year option. The F-35s are expected to remain in service for several decades after that. According to the army’s recommendation, which was commissioned by politicians, aircraft other than the so-called fifth generation, of which the F-35 is the only available representative, would cease to be sufficient for the tasks expected after 2040.

One of them will be close cooperation with drones, which experts expect to fly in formation with human-crewed aircraft.