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Sales of L-159 ALCA are still uncertain

Published : 5 September 2012
505 words in that article

At the end of August 2012, company EADS/CASA sent back to the Czech Republic one of the five aircraft L-159 ALCA (Advanced Light Combat Aircraft) which were bartered in 2008 in exchange of one transport plane C-295 CASA. This restitution is seen as a compensation of the recurrent technical problems met by the four Czech CASAs, which are still forbidden of any operational deployment in spite of the constructers’ efforts.

But this movement backwards is raising the issue of the sale of the aircraft which are currently not used by the Czech Air Force.

The initial contract for 72 aircraft, which was far beyond the Czech military capability, involved some well-known politicians of the current political scene. It was signed in 1997 by Mr. Kalousek who was at that time deputy defense minister for economy in the government led by Vaclav Klaus.

The Czech intention was to build an asset meant for export. But it underestimated the American export regulations (60% of the electronic components of the L-159 have an American origin) or the competition with jets like the British Hawk or the American-Korean T-50. Thus the numerous countries (India, Kenya, Venezuela, Colombia, Jordan, Thailand, Egypt, Bulgaria …) that expressed some interest in this plane gradually dropped it down either because of an American ban on sales or better offers from other competitors.

Twenty-four of the seventy-two jets produced by company Aero Vodochody are currently used by the Czech Air Force. One aircraft was destroyed in an accident, four were bartered to EADS/CASA, seven were used to build two-seats versions and 36 are still stockpiled in the warehouses of the company. The annual cost of maintenance puts a strain of 480 K€ on the defense budget that is almost 5.6 million euros from 2003, date of the last L-159 delivery to the Czech forces.

That is why selling those aging and useless aircraft has become one of the main priorities of Minister Vondra since his nomination on 13th July 2010.

In order to bypass the rigidity of the American export legislation, Czechs substituted a number of electronic components with French or Ukrainian products. They reduced their prices in order to build a more attractive offer. The planes were bought initially by the Czech government at a price of 24 million euros each. They were proposed five years ago 6.8 million euros per piece. The current offer comes to a price between 800 K€ and 1.6 million euros each. But any potential client would have to add 2.8 million euros per piece in order to pay the technical costs of the maintenance process aiming at transforming stockpiled aircraft in combat-ready assets.

Several countries are quite cautious in showing their interest: Iraq is procrastinating; Poland is hesitating and is changing regularly its requirements, alternatively eliminating or putting back the L-159 in the competition.

Anyway, if the budget previsions (10% cut in 2013 and 2014) come true, Mr. Vondra will certainly want to get rid of this burden. Sale for a token euro could not be far away.