The NATO Days and Czech Air Force Days, which were held at the Leos Janacek Airport in Ostrava, are one of the biggest defence and security shows in Europe. According to the motto, “Our security cannot be taken for granted and there is no prosperity without security”, the event is always expected to present a wide array of weapon systems and capabilities of the Czech and allied armed forces, which lays the ground for stabilising and strengthening the security system on the continent.
The rich programme of the event included presentations and demonstrations of various weapon systems, such as fighter, trainer and transport aircraft, helicopters and bombers, main battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and armoured tactical platforms, in addition to small arms and personal equipment of soldiers and Special Forces operators, as well as firefighters, policemen, customs officers, the prison service and municipal police.
The 19th edition of NATO Days in Ostrava welcomed over 220,000 visitors, including professionals and representatives of the media, who could follow 70 dynamic and static displays showcased by 17 participating countries, including Romania, which was the Special Partner Nation of this year’s edition of the show. The Romanian Air Force, Army, and Department for Emergency Situations presented a number of air platforms from its inventory, such as MiG-21 fighter jets, the IAR 99 ȘOIM advanced trainer and light attack aircraft, the IAR 330 PUMA multirole helicopter as well as C-27J SPARTAN transport aircraft.
Among other participants were Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland, the UK and the US as well as NATO’s E-3A Component with all-Polish crew.
US Air Force Capabilities on Focus
The US Air Force (USAF), as one of the major participants of NATO Days in Ostravaunderlined the fact that the event increased US capabilities in cooperation with partner nations and demonstrated integrated, proven and effective training system of allied forces, improving the security system in Europe.
According to Maj. Gen. John B. Williams, Air Force Reserve Mobilization Assistance to the Commander, USAFE-AFAFRICA, the US presence in Ostrava was “to show our support for the [NATO] alliance. (…) It is all about our partners. It is important for us to show our support, all of our aircraft ready to together represent the alliance. We stand together for the common good”.
The USAF was represented by a number of aircraft and aircrew from Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve, and active-duty units. The platforms showcased during the show included one MQ-9 REAPER assigned to the 52nd Expeditionary Operations Group Detachment 2 in Miroslawiec, Poland, one B-52 STRATOFORTRESS from the 307th Bomb Wing at Barksdale AFB, La., one KC-135 from the 155th Air Refuelling Wing, Nebraska ANG and one C-5M Super Galaxy from the 433th Airlift Wing, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.
“We came out to build camaraderie with our NATO partners; we’re getting a chance to meet and exchange information we might not have had prior to this NATO Day event”, said Capt. David Fink, 68th Airlift Squadron C-5M Super Galaxy pilot, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.
Bell Enhances Sales Opportunities
The American company Bell was one of the most important representatives of the aviation and defence industry present in Ostrava. The manufacturer showcased its AH-1Z VIPER attack and UH-1Y VENOM multirole helicopters, assigned to the US Marine Corps. These platforms make up for Bell’s sales offer for most of the Central and Eastern Europe countries and all other states in the so-called Three Seas region.
The manufacturer came to Ostrava shortly after the Czech Republic decided to procure four AH-1Z VIPER attack and eight UH-1Y VENOM utility/multirole helicopters to modernise the country’s armed forces and enhance their operational capabilities. “We reviewed the offers received, and based on military recommendations, we decided on a variant that includes eight UH-1Y VENOM multi-purpose and four AH-1Z VIPER attack helicopters. We would like to conclude the contract by the end of the year”, said Lubomír Metnar, head of the Czech MoD in August 2019, shortly after the decision to acquire Bell’s helicopters was announced.
“This is something we have worked on for over 5 years. We were here in 2014 and we explained the value proposition of having a combat multirole, UH-1Y and a dedicated attack, the AH-1Z, flying and operating them together’, said Joel Best, Director of Global Sales and Strategy at Bell during the show in Ostrava.
According to the Czech authorities, deliveries of new rotary-wing aircraft should commence in 2023. However, despite the significant involvement of the local industry, the manufacturer denies the possibility of transferring the technology directly to the Czech Republic. “Because there’s 12 aircraft, there is not going to be any co-build of the aircraft. However, the integrators for the maintenance, repair, overhaul come to the US to help build the aircraft”, said Best.
Best underlined the fact that the Czech VIPER/VENOM helicopters will have a similar standard to the ones which are operated by the US Marine Corps. “They’re essentially buying the Marine Corps variant and will stay on the growth path with the USMC. There will be some minor modifications. They want a weather radar. They have very minimum integration requirements”, said Best.
The manufacturer also acknowledges that the number of platforms that the Czech Republic is buying is insufficient to satisfy the requirements of the country’s armed forces. Therefore, Bell is looking forward to receiving more orders in the future.
Bell is also positive about sales perspectives in other CEE region countries, such as Poland or Romania. “We believe that there are capabilities and elements across most of the V4 countries”, said Best.
Poland has a requirement of several dozen modern combat helicopters under the KRUK programme in order to replace the its Soviet-era Mi-24D/W aircraft. Similarly, Romania is looking to procure a number of attack/multirole helicopters and Bucharest has already sent a Letter of Request to the US DoD in 2017 regarding the potential sale of Bell aircraft.
The Czechs’ New Trainer Jet
During NATO Days in Ostrava, the largest Czech aviation manufacturer revealed a handful of new facts about the ongoing development of the L-39NG next generation advanced trainer jet and light attack aircraft. The company confirmed that the project is running on schedule and that the fully capable platform will be delivered in the coming years.
“We are on track. We have one flying prototype. The second prototype will enter flight tests in October. We are very well on time”, said Dieter John, President & CEO of Aero Vodochody Aerospace. “We offer three configurations: the basic trainer, the advanced trainer and light attack version”, he added.
The manufacturer plans to use three aircraft in the development, testing and certification process of the L-39NG platform. The first one, a L-39CW technology demonstrator, commenced flight testing in March 2019, which subsequently was proceeded by intensive avionic, stall, and spin testing.
The first prototype of the L-39NG initiated a pilot static and basic performance testing in September, while the second platform is expected to start flight tests by the end of 2019. Dieter John added that all three flying test aircraft shall complete full L-39NG flight test campaign in summer 2020. Certification of the full trainer and light attack configuration should be finished by the end of 2021.
The manufacturer also referred to export plans and sales opportunities of the L-39NG platform, confirming that a number of potential buyers have already been identified, such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Austria, Hungary, Greece, Senegal, Thailand, Philippines, and Vietnam.
It has already been confirmed that the Slovak Air Force is looking for a number of advanced trainer jet to train a new generation of pilots, who in the next years will start operating a fleet of 14 F-16V Block 70/72 multirole fighter aircraft, which the government in Bratislava contracted late last year. It has not yet been announced what requirements will be sent out to potential bidders; the Slovak MoD is still working on that issue.
However, the new aircraft will replace the currently operated, legacy trainers, including five L-39CM and two L-39ZAM, at these platforms are said to be incapable of offering the level of training required to prepare pilots to operate the future F-16s.
Michał Jarocki is is an independent, Warsaw-based defence expert who has reported on security issues and developments from a qualified “insider” position for many years.