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Iraq about to buy 28 Czech L-159

Published : 12 October 2012
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During a common press conference on 12th October, the Czech and Iraqi Defense ministers confirmed that Iraq will buy 28 Czech aircraft L-159 for about 1 billion US dollars (19.2 billion Czech crowns).

According to the information issued in the media, the Czech offer could include:

  • The sale of 24 brand-new two-seat aircraft, coming from the assembly line of company Aero Vodochody which will be re-opened for this contract. The first delivery could take place in December 2014;
  • The transfer free of charge of 4 two-seat combat planes coming from the Czech armed forces stock. The first one could be delivered seven months after the signature of the contract;
  • The maintenance;
  • A participation in the training of pilots and mechanics.

Those 28 jets will constitute the backbone of the new Iraqi Air Force training fleet and will complement the acquisition of 36 American-made F-16 which will protect the Iraqi airspace from 2014.

This decision takes place at the end of a two-day visit of a numerous Iraqi delegation led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. It is a three-year process which is coming to an end – the first Czech offer to the Iraqi government goes back to October 2009 – and which should lead to a quick signature of the acquisition contract. A delegation of Iraqi experts should come to Prague in the near future in order to settle the details of this order.

With the acquisition of those jets, Iraq is renewing a tradition of use of planes coming from company Aero Vodochody. In the past, the Iraqi Air Force – which was one of the most powerful in the Middle East – included several dozens of L-29 Dolphin and L-39 Albatross of Czechoslovak origin.

During their meeting, the two Defense ministers also envisaged other possibilities of commercial cooperation as the delivery of small weapons from Česká Zbrojovka – this company is offering in particular weapons of new generation such as assault rifle CZ-805 BREN, new submachine gun Scorpion or automatic pistol CZ-75 – or the modernization of T-72 tanks.

The Armed forces of Czech Republic will no longer be the only ones to have this aircraft. (…) This will unquestionably lead to a multiplier effect and I have no doubt that this order will be a milestone
Mr. Vondra declared during the press conference, adding also that re-opening of assembly line in Aero-Vodochody was good news for the Czech Defense industry.

But Czechs should remain very cautious because the contract is still far from being signed. The Iraqi Defense minister Al Dulaimi recalled during the press conference “I can call what we agreed today a first step”. The outcome is still wide open because Czechs need the formal authorization of the American administration to be able to export their planes because of the great amount of American electronic components inside.
Since Americans will deliver 36 jets F-16 to Iraq, it looks like an easy step to get this authorization. But it would be a mistake to forget that the American offer of F-16 was made together with a proposal of American-Korean plane T-50 for training purposes. This latter aircraft is more modern than L-159 and supersonic when the Czech jet is only subsonic. T-50 was introduced as the perfect complement of F-16.
It is far from impossible that the recent Iraqi decision in favor of Czech aircraft has been taken because of the American pressure to force Baghdad to control its airspace in order to avoid the smuggling of weapons from Iran to Syria.

But will this angry Iraqi posture last long? By saying no to export license of L-159, Washington would kill two birds with one stone: they would give Iraqis a clear signal of the limit not to be crossed and an excuse to go backwards with the Czech contract.