Brigadier General Jiří Verner, commander of the Air Force of the Czech Republic outlined how he was able to achieve a great deal for a small country following reorganization of the ex-Eastern Bloc air arm into a leaner force equipped with modern fighter aircraft, numerous helicopters mostly used for army support and a small transport fleet.
Key to Czech air defence is the fleet of 14 JAS 39 Gripen fighters, backed-up by 24 Czech-built L-159 ALCA advanced light combat aircraft. The Gripens are used exclusively for air defence while the ALCAs also do ground attack, forward air control (FAC) training and conversion training.
“It is a big mistake of some of our politicians and decision makers to call the L-159 a better L-39. I say it is more of a worse F-16,” said BGen Verner. With many common systems, the L-159 to Gripen conversion is “short and cheap and easy” he added.
A highlight of recent Czech air operations was undertaking the Baltic Air Policing mission from Šiauliai air base in Lithuania in 2009. In addition to maintaining quick reaction alert at home, the Czech AF supplied four Gripens, supported by 75 personnel. The four-month rotation cost €1.6 million and saw eight real life intercepts of uncommunicative aircraft. Showing a slide of a Russian Air Force Il-38 ‘May’ ELINT aircraft shadowed by a Gripen, Brig Gen Verner described “The Aeroflot aircraft with special antennas, looking like a hedgehog”.
The Gripens were followed by a Luftwaffe Typhoon detachment with 200 personnel. “Only the Turks had more,” Verner added.
The Czech AF will return in August 2012 for another air policing stint.
Brigadier General Jiří Verner, Commander of the Air Force of the Czech Republic.
The Czech AF is particularly proud of the Silver Tiger award won at the first NATO Tiger Meet exercise they attended with the Gripen in 2009.
“I consider that the trophy means we are fully accepted as a NATO member and I would love to keep that going after 2015 [when the current Gripen lease agreement is due to expire] and that our politicians make an excellent decision for the future.”