Czechia scores defense industry victory with sale of 12 jets to Vietnam

By admin
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The first major international sales success has been announced for the Czech military aircraft manufacturer Aero Vodochody Aerospace (AVA) with their next generation training or light attack aircraft. The new L-39NG jet is the latest offering by the reputable — yet less well-known company — which has been producing aircraft since 1919.

The company has just announced the sale of 12 jets to the Vietnamese Air Force through Omnipol, a Czech supplier of defense and security technology. This is an important development for the manufacturer that had invested large amounts into the development of their next-generation aircraft. The first international order will not only mean prestige for the developers, but will free up further financial resource for building up its manufacturing capabilities. Aero Vodochody Aerospace (AVA), as other defense manufacturers, have been negatively affected by the coronavirus pandemic and the sale of 12 aircraft will certainly be welcome news.

The first flight of the L-39NG was only as far back as 2018, and final development is still thought to be ongoing. The aircraft is a further evolution of one of the most successful military aircrafts of all times, the Albatros L-39, of which over 2,900 have been manufactured during the Cold War.

The new Czech model will receive a so-called wet wing, that is, fuel tanks inside the wing, and will lose its predecessor’s distinctive wingtip storage. It is powered by an FJ-44 Williams turbofan engine, which is basically an engine used in light business jets.

The aircraft can carry a crew of two, and has a maximum takeoff weight of 5.8 tons. It is subsonic and can reach speeds of up to 775 kilometers per hour with the range of 2,590 kilometers. Although at present it is only offered in a training configuration, it is believed that it can be used as a light attack setup with an external gunpod capable of carrying a range of laser guided air-to-ground weapons. The price of the aircraft without training and infrastructure is thought to be around $10 million.

Interestingly, the order will be delivered to Vietnam’s “Julius Fučík“ training squadron named after a Czech communist writer and poet. The trainee pilots will gradually progress from the US-made turboprop aircraft, the T-6 Texan, to the L-39NG, before continuing on to a higher performance Russian-made training and light attack aircraft, the JAK 130. Vietnam’s main fighter jet will be the Russian Su-30MK2V.

The 12 aircraft will be delivered between 2023-24. Omnipol has also signed a contract for creating training facilities for the Vietnamese air force, supplying instructors and spare parts for the project. The transfer of training equipment and service facilities to the Tuy Hoa base, where the 910 training squadron is based is thought to start as early as next year. The entire contract is calculated to be worth around $240 million.

Omnipol is the joint co-owners of AVA with the company of Hungarian entrepreneur András Tombor. The sale of 50 percent of the company to the Hungarian businessman was announced last year, which raises hopes that the aircraft may see service in the Hungarian Air Force sometime in the future. Indeed, apart from the Czech Air Force, which is potentially interested in four aircraft for its own needs, a number of international customers have expressed their interest regarding the relatively cheap, but modern and aircraft. Hungarian pilots have tested the L-39NG at their own bases in Hungary, while neighboring Slovakia, Senegal and the Portuguese company SkyTech have already expressed serious interest. Negotiations are also being conducted with Thailand and the Philippines.

Many believe that it would be near impossible for Aero to repeat their Cold War success with the original Albatros aircraft with their new offering. They are facing a strong competition from modern manufacturers with incomparably deeper pockets such as Boeing, Irkut Corporation and Alenia Aermacchi. Yet, the initial success of the L-39NG project is a source of national pride for a small country like Czechia, and if further sales would roll in, a decent source of profit will follow as well.

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