Please read this very recent Aviationintel piece for background:
Iraq is increasingly looking toward arms sellers outside the USA for its military equipment needs. Just today the news broke the Al Maliki Government will be purchasing $4.2B worth of attack helicopters and surface to air missile systems from Russia. It would also seem that Iraq is ready to purchase up to 24 Aero Vodochody L-159 Advanced Light Combat Aircraft (ALCA) which are also able to function as lead in fighter trainers. This purchase, rumored to be in the works for years, as well as the recent Russian purchases, is a departure from the short-lived norm of Iraq almost exclusively buying American manufactured aerospace hardware. Currently, Iraq has some 18 Block 52+ F-16Cs on order, as well as another 18 pending. After years of warfare and hundreds of billions of dollars spent, it would seem logical that Iraq would give its military hardware business to the USA, although in light of recent events this logic seems to have been short-lived.
The news of Iraq flexing its economically independent military muscles may also be influencing the Karzai Government in Afghanistan into doing the same, as President Karzai has stated himself that if the US does not get its act immediately together concerning the fielding of a light attack aircraft for the Afghan Air Force he will go to outside sources, such as China, Russia and India, to get the job done. Now that the L-159 program may be heating up again with a buyer for a portion of the some 48+ surplus L-159s available (and possibly about 24 more that are currently serving with the Czech Air Force) the US should immediately jump in and purchase the balance of the aircraft for Afghanistan.
The existing L-159 surplus fleet is already quite advanced with a Hands On Throttle And Stick (HOTAS) pilot interface, a wide-angle Heads Up Display (HUD), multi-function displays, a potent 20mm gun pod, as well as the capability to launch many existing NATO weapons. Furthermore, these aircraft are easily upgradable and the integration of modern targeting pods and other advanced components is said to be relatively easily executed. The L-159 can also be equipped with the pint-sized, yet potent Grifo modular radar system. This capability will allow Afghanistan to field a rudimentary air sovereignty aircraft for which to protect its airspace. Also, the L-159, with its simple systems, robust landing gear and high-set air intakes, can operate from rough airfields and other austere locations ease, which is a beneficial characteristic for a country with as little developed infrastructure as Afghanistan. As mentioned in the piece linked at the beginning of this article, Afghanistan has operated the L-159s incredibly numerous little brother, the ubiquitous L-39 Albatross, for decades, and these two aircraft share an incredibly large degree of commonality. This fact alone will significantly reduce maintenance and pilot training challenges and fielding a battle-ready force may actually be workable within the ever tightening two-year timeline for US withdrawal as the aircraft are already built and ready for upgrades. Finally, the L-159s are cheap. Do I know the exact asking price? No, but I do know that the Czech government and industry is totally upside down in this program and has been begging to unload the majority of the fleet, some 48 jets, for about a decade. In other words, the seller is highly motivated and the aircraft are sucking up money just sitting idle year after year.
In the end the L-159 may be a decent fit for Iraq, but it is the closest thing to a perfect fit for Afghanistan currently available at this time. If the Obama Administration is serious about turning over full military control, and combat risk, to the Afghans, with any real chance of actually maintaining said control, they would immediately purchase the maximum number of L-159s available and begin training the Afghan Air Force on cheap and widely available L-39s. This way, with hard work and some luck, by the time the 2014 withdrawal date of US forces comes to pass Afghanistan will have an effective light attack aircraft to support its fledgeling forces on the ground. As far as the embarrassing and mismanaged USAF Light Air Support program, which originally aimed at fielding a US assembled turbo-prop driven light attack aircraft for the Afghans, let it continue on its sickly way or cancel it outright. If we rely on this troubled program alone to fulfill Afghanistan’s close air support needs, by the time these aircraft would actually be flown, maintained and employed with any effectiveness by the Afghan Air Force, it will be too late. At least the L-159 buys the US some time, and would be a fantastic complement to the LAS program’s AT-6 or Super Tucano, if it actually ever gets delivered. Even a cost effective Hellfire Missile equipped Cessna Caravan, which is also available now, would be a perfect armed reconnaissance, high-endurance, companion to the L-159, and could fill in for much of the MQ-1 Predator’s mission sets.
I find it very disheartening that the emerging Iraqi Air Force can see the great value in an available, affordable and proven asset like the L-159 but the USAF cannot. The US and other allied nations have felt it appropriate to field non-US manufactured helicopters and transports for the Afghans over the past decade, so why should a fixed wing light attack aircraft be any different? Now is the time to act as there is simply no time left for entertain the Pentagon’s procurement debauchery. President Obama and Secretary of Defense Panetta, please act now and purchase as many L-159s from our friends in the Czech Republic as possible as there is no better alternative and absolutely no more time spare.