Aero Vodochody and IAI partner to offer improved L-159 for OA-X competition

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Draken L-159E Honey Badger aircraft provided Red Air for USMC air assets during Exercise Winter Fury

“The L-159 is the most cost-effective and lowest-risk option,” Giuseppe Giordo, Aero Vodochody’s CEO

Aero Vodochody has partnered with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to offer the former’s L-159 for the U.S. Air Force’s OA-X close air support program.

As reported by Flight Global, Giuseppe Giordo, Aero Vodochody’s CEO, said the L-159 is “the most cost-effective and lowest-risk option.”

The two companies also say that – if chosen for the roughly 350-aircraft requirement – they would consider setting up a production line and supply chain for the Honeywell F124-GA-100-powered jet trainer in the U.S.

The USAF has already invited Textron Aviation and Sierra Nevada/Embraer to take part in an evaluation exercise this summer with their Beechcraft AT-6 and A-29 Super Tucano, respectively.

However, Giordo says the USAF “cannot afford the risk of flying with turboprops”, adding: “We do believe that US pilots need to have the best assets in close air support missions. This is not a developmental airplane. It has been used in a real operational war environment and can perform many roles.”

Aero Vodochody and IAI’s Lahav division announced in April that they are to collaborate on a version of the L-159 that will see the jet trainer equipped with a new, “fourth-generation” avionics suite and “other solutions”, believed to be weapons integration systems. The current variant already features IAI equipment, including an Elta Systems radar and optional datalink.

The company restarted low-volume production of the L-159 in 2016 after cancelling the programme in the mid-1990s when sole customer the Czech Republic furloughed most of its fleet of 72 aircraft. However, after a successful decade-long effort to sell the surplus types to the Iraqi Air Force – which has used them in its campaign against so-called Islamic State insurgents – and U.S. adversary training specialist Draken International, Aero Vodochody has built two additional aircraft.

The L-159 is a single-seat, multi-role aircraft capable of supporting a variety of air-to-air, air-to-ground and reconnaissance missions. The aircraft can carry a wide range of U.S. and NATO standard ordinance including air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles and laser-guided bombs (LGBs). The L-159 can also carry the Litening Pod and other specially designed Electronic Attack (EA) pods to satisfy a verity of customer requirements.

Giordo says two L-159 production lines could be established – one building the latest version for the transatlantic requirement with IAI and a possible U.S. partner, and the existing facility near Prague focusing on the existing variant.

The partnership with IAI could also potentially include the smaller L-39NG: a re-engined version of its venerable Albatros jet trainer that Aero Vodochody hopes to fly by November and have operational by the first quarter of 2020.

Photo credit: Draken International

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