Czech Air Force
Vzdušné síly
Emblem of the Czech Air Force
Founded1 January 1993
(31 years, 1 month)
Country Czech Republic
TypeAir force
RoleAerial warfare
Size53 fixed-wing aircraft
46 helicopters [1]
Part ofCzech Armed Forces
HeadquartersPrague
Motto(s)Czech: Vzduch je naše moře
"The air is our sea"
Commanders
Air Force CommanderMajor General Petr Čepelka[2][3]
Insignia
Roundel
Flag
Aircraft flown
FighterJAS 39 Gripen, L-159A
HelicopterMi-17, W-3A, UH-1Y Venom, AH-1Z Viper
ReconnaissanceLet L-410
TrainerAero L-159
TransportC-295M, Airbus A319

The Czech Air Force (Czech: Vzdušné síly)[Note 1] is the air force branch of the Army of the Czech Republic. Along with the Land Forces, the Air Force is the major Czech military force. With traditions of military aviation dating back to 1918, the Czech Air Force, together with the Slovak Air Force, succeeded the Czechoslovak Air Force in 1993.[4][5] On 1 July 1997, the 3rd Tactical Aviation Corps and the 4th Air Defence Corps of the Czech Army were merged to form an independent Air Force Headquarters.

The Air Force is responsible for securing the integrity of the Czech Republic's airspace through the NATO Integrated Air Defence System (NIADS), close air support to the Land Forces and for transportation tasks including government and state priority flights. In peacetime the Air Force is contributing to tasks originating in the Czech laws and interministerial agreements, for example to the air ambulance service or the SAR role.[6]

Czech JAS-39C/D Gripen multirole fighters fulfill primarily the tasks related to the air defence of the Czech Republic and the NATO within the system of NATINAMDS. In the so-called national reinforcement system the subsonic L-159 ALCA jets could be deployed to fulfil this task too.[7] The radar surveillance of the airspace of the Czech Republic is a responsibility of the 26th Air Command, Control and Surveillance Regiment at Stará Boleslav. Altogether seven radio-technical companies are spread around the country so that they can continuously cover its whole territory.[8]

History

Further information: Czechoslovak Air Force § History

First years

A Czech Air Force MiG-21MF

The separation saw a large reduction in types, numbers, and bases. In 1994, the 3rd Corps of Tactical Aviation was created. The newest fighter in the Czechoslovak Air Force arsenal was the MiG-29 (Izdelie 9.12). As there was only one general maintenance kit, which was given to newly created Slovak Republic, and all the material was split 1:1 with Slovakia, maintenance costs for the Czech Fulcrums would be too high. Along with the unreasonably high costs, speculative costs for spare parts imported from Russia, which were realised through third-party companies (Mil Mi-24 rotor blades acquisitions were over-priced by 400%),[citation needed] this led to the exchange of 10 MiG-29s with Poland for PZL W-3A Sokół rescue helicopters with avionics and ground support. Therefore, 10 air superiority fighters were exchanged for 11 light helicopters and this acquisition became a strongly discussed affair during the mid-1990s.[9] The burden of readiness squadron passed to the MiG-23s.

The new-era Air Force of the Czech Army was effectively formed on 1 July 1997 when the 3rd Corps of Tactical Aviation and the 4th Air Defence Corps were united. The members of both units have taken part in Alliance actions since the Czech Republic entered NATO on 12 March 1999.[6] The Air Force began to revise and update its doctrines and aircraft and the acquisition of a new, western fighter was considered. MiG-23MFs were retired in 1994, MLs in 1998 and MiG-21s were reestablished as an interim type for what was supposed to be a transition period before buying a new fighter – which was determined to be the Swedish JAS 39 Gripen multi-role fighter aircraft. Because of the devastating floods that hit the country during 2002, the deal was deferred.[10]

2000s

A new international tender was issued for an interim solution. Gripen again won this tender among six different bidders as the Czech Republic accepted a government-to-government 10-year lease from Sweden that did not involve BAE Systems. Media allegations of BAE Systems kickbacks to decision makers during the original sales effort have led nowhere in judicial inquiries.[11]

In December 2008, the Czech Air Force wanted to train helicopter pilots for desert conditions for the upcoming mission in Afghanistan. Israel was the only country that was ready to help out, as it saw this as an opportunity to thank the Czech Republic for training Israeli pilots and supporting Israel when it first became a state.[12][13]

The independence of the Czech Air Force was terminated on 1 December 2003 when the force became a part of newly established Joint Forces of the Czech Army with the command post located at Olomouc. Within the new structure the Air Force Commander-in-Chief was named as a Joint Forces Chief Commander Deputy.[6]

2010s

The Air Force operated within this structure until 30 June 2013. Within the framework of the reorganisation of the Army, on 1 July 2013 the independent High Command of the Czech Air Force (Czech: Velitelství vzdušných sil) was established, headquartered in Prague with new Commander in Chief Brigadier General Libor Štefánik.[14] Former Joint Forces Command and Support Forces Command HQs were disbanded by 30 June 2013.[15] With the Gripen contract due to expire in 2015, speculation mounted about whether that leasing agreement will be renewed or another type of fighter plane chosen.[16] The Czech government expected a tender to be organised to provide a force of 18 supersonic fighters after 2015. The JAS-39 Gripen was generally accepted as the most effective option owing to the existing infrastructure, the availability of trained personnel and previous good operational experience. However, the background of the existing contract – specifically the broadly discussed issue of alleged corruption – prevented politicians from settling for this quick solution, favouring instead a general tender with more bidders offering such types as the F-16, F/A-18, F-15SE or F-35A.[17][18]

Aero Vodochody L-159A ALCA of the Czech Air Force

The creation of a non-supersonic air force has also been discussed as an option, owing to the perceived high costs and limited usefulness of keeping supersonic assets in a country surrounded by allied countries (all are European Union members and NATO members, except Austria). In this scenario the subsonic L-159 would become the backbone of the air force. The latest 2011 White Book clearly states that the supersonic fleet is to be continued for the protection of the Czech Republic and for co-operation within the NATO Integrated Air Defence System.[19] Twelve single-seat and two twin-seat aircraft are viewed as sufficient for patrolling the Czech Republic, while 18 can support the sentry role in other NATO countries. A preliminary RFI requested 18 aircraft.[17] The White Book specifies the 12+2 solution, requiring strategic requirements for the supersonic air force to be specified by November 2011.

On 16 May 2014, the director general of the Swedish defence and export agency FXM and the Czech deputy defence minister for defence acquisitions signed the "Annex prolonging agreement of lease of the JAS-39 Gripen aircraft", ensuring also the continuous upgrading and increasing the capabilities of these machines. The Swedish supersonic aircraft will equip the Czech Air Force until 2027 with an option for further two years.[20]

Czech Defense Minister Martin Stropnický has unveiled plans to replace Soviet-designed military equipment with new weapons and to acquire helicopters and radars for the Czech Air Force, with tenders expected to be launched in 2015.[21][22] In June 2019, the Czech Defence Minister submitted a contract to the government for the procurement of two C-295 transport aircraft to replace its Yakovlev Yak-40s.[23] On 22 August 2019, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš announced that the Czech Air Force had selected an offer from Bell Helicopter for eight UH-1Y Venom and four AH-1Z Viper helicopters.[24] A contract for the helicopters was signed on 13 December 2019.[25]

2020s

In September 2020, both old Soviet Yak-40 transports were decommissioned in Kbely Air Force Base.[26] In September 2021, the last small VIP transport plane CL-601 Challenger ended its service. In March 2022, it was removed from military air registry,[27] and it is now one of the components of Military History Institute.[28]

In September 2021, Czech Defense minister Lubomír Metnar signed contract with government of Israel for SPYDER Air Defense systems[29] to replace old Soviet era 2K12M2 Kub (SA-6) systems. In April 2022, after Czech republic donated some of its Mi-24 helicopters to Ukraine as part of the military support, the US DoD decided to give additional 6 AH-1Z Viper and 2 UH-1Y Venom from their reserves as a gift to boost insufficient number of already ordered helicopters.[30] They should be delivered after modernisation in 2026 and 2027.[31] The first two AH-1Z arrived in July 2023 and both AH-1Z and UH-1Y helicopters were presented to public for the first time during the 2023 NATO Days in Ostrava.[32] All of the 12 ordered helicopters is expected to be delivered before the end of first quarter of 2024.[31]

In July 2022, Czech government selected F-35A Lightning II as a new fighter aircraft to enter service after lease of the JAS-39 ends in 2027. For that purpose minister of defence Jana Černochová was authorized to start negotiation on procurement of 24 fighters with the government of United States of America.[33] On 27 September the Czech government approved the conditions of the contract for 24 F-35A that would be delivered from 2029 to 2033.[34]

Czech Air Force together with Polish Air Force protects the airspace of Slovakia since 1 September 2022 when Slovak Air Force grounded its old MiG-29 and the term of delivery of the new F-16C fighters were postponed to 2024.[35]

CzAF-NATO cooperation

Since the Czech Republic joined NATO, regular participation at a number of the Alliance's international exercises became a matter of course for the Czech Air Force. In 2009, the Czech Republic concluded an agreement regarding the cross-border collaboration and training with neighbouring Germany.[36]

NATO Tiger Association

Gripen prepared for the Tiger Meet

In 2002, the NATO Tiger Meet was held at the Beja Air Base in Portugal. The 331st Helicopter Squadron was honored there by proclaiming it as a full member of the NATO Tiger Association. The squadron also received the most prestigious trophy, the Silver Tiger. With its new 221st Helicopter Squadron designation the unit continues, rejuvenated by new incoming members, in the Tiger tradition through today.

After the deployment of new JAS-39 Gripen fighters in 2005, four Gripens took part in the NATO Tiger Meet for the first time in 2008 at French Landivisiau. In 2010, the 211st Tactical Squadron was accepted as a full member of the NATO Tiger Association at Volkel Air Base, and the squadron was awarded a Silver Tiger Trophy.[37]

AWACS

In 2011, the Czech Republic became the eighteenth country taking part in the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control (NAEW&C) programme. Taking part in that international initiative means for Czech Air Force members an active participation in AWACS operations. A participation on the NAEW&C programme will cost the Czech Republic some 90 million CZK a year.[38]

Foreign deployments

Afghanistan

Emblem of the Task Force Hippo

In December 2009, Czech Air Force members started to build-up a rear for their new helicopter unit to be deployed in Afghanistan. After that the first three modernized Mi-171Sh helicopters armed for self-defense with PKM machine guns were air-transported to Afghanistan by Antonov An-124 Ruslan transport aircraft on 5 January 2010. To the FOB Sharana permanent forward operational base, all helicopters and unit members numbering 110 soldiers were flown on 17 January 2010. The Czech helicopter unit known as Task Force Hippo was ranged under Alliance Regional Command East. TF Hippo entered ISAF operations on 25 January 2010.[39][40]

The first advisory group of the Czech Air Force was sent to Afghanistan in April 2008. Involved then there were members of the 231st of the time and the recent 221st Helicopter Squadron who have been tasked to participate in an establishment of the new Afghan National Army. As a part of the international Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team (OMLT) they started to work as instructors during training of Afghan Mi-24 attack helicopter crews and in the same way to train ground personnel.

A new Czech team was added to the deployment in 2010. The new Czech group consisted of pilots and technicians from the 243rd Helicopter Squadron, respectively from the 24th Transport Air Base at Prague-Kbely. The main task of Kbely AMT (Air Mentoring Team) section has been defined as air training of Afghan Mi-17/Mi-171 transport helicopter crews.

The Czech Republic also provided material help to Afghan Air Force which included supplies of aviation equipment – six Mi-17 transport helicopters and six Mi-24 attack helicopters. After selected helicopters underwent major overhauls and modernizations all have been presented to the Afghan National Army during the 2007–2009.[41]

Baltics

Mil Mi-171Sh of the Czech Air Force

The Czech Republic first joined the Baltic Air Policing (BAP) mission from 1 May until 31 August 2009 when a four-Gripen contingent was based in Baltic region. The second mission of the task force took place from 1 September 2012 until 4 January 2013. The main task of the Baltic Air Policing 2012 mission was to ensure protection of the airspace over the land and water territory of the three Baltic statesLatvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The whole mission was a part of NATINADS, operating from the Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania. Remaining Czech Air Force Gripens were also in a 24/7 readiness on their home base at Čáslav. As in 2009, also during the 2012 Baltic mission the targets of Alpha scrambles were Russian military aircraft that failed to observe the flight rules of the civilian air corridors.[42]

Sinai Peninsula

Czech CASA C-295M

One of the most important tasks of the Czech military transport aviation in recent years is to provide support to the international Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) peace mission at the Sinai Peninsula. A small unit with one transport C-295M turboprop belonging to the equipment of the 24th Transport Air Base at Prague-Kbely has operated there since early November 2013 and contributes to the surveillance and monitoring the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel.[43]

Ukraine

In relation to the 2014 Russian invasion of the Eastern Ukraine and occupation of Crimea the Government of the Czech Republic decided to provide help to the Ukrainian people. The first large-scale evacuation took place on 27 February 2014, when two aircraft departed the 24th Transport Air Base at Prague-Kbely for Kyiv, Ukraine. The A319CJ was fitted with two PTUs (Patient Transport Units) and two stretchers, the C-295M carried one PTU and 12 stretchers. The aircraft brought 27 Ukrainian citizens to the Czech Republic. Medical care was provided during the flight by a team of military medical personnel from the Centre of the aviation rescue service at Plzeň-Líně and from the Central Military Hospital in Prague. The second MEDEVAC mission took place on 6 March 2014, when one C-295M brought to the Czech Republic further 11 wounded persons.[44]

Structure

Czech Air Force is located in Czech Republic
Main bases of the Czech Air Force 2018:
JAS-39C/D Gripen Helicopters other flying units
Command and Control centres Air defence missile unit RAT-31DL radar sites
other sites
Czech Air Force organization 2023

The Czech Air Force consists of the following main units:[45]

Aircraft

Further information: List of military aircraft of the Czech Republic

Current inventory

A JAS-39C Gripen at cruising altitude
A W-3A Sokol on lift off
Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Combat Aircraft
Aero L-159 Czech Republic light attack L-159A 16[54]
JAS 39 Gripen Sweden multirole JAS 39C 12[54] leased from the Swedish Air Force[55]
Transport
Let L-410 Czech Republic utility L-410UVP[56] 6[54] 2 L-410FG used for surveillance[56]
Airbus A319 France VIP transport A319CJ 2[57]
CASA C-295 Spain cargo / transport C-295M 6[54]
Helicopters
Mil Mi-17 Soviet Union utility 17/171 20[54]
PZL W-3 Poland utility W-3A 10[54]
Bell AH-1Z United States attack 4 [58] 6 to be donated by the U.S.[59]
Bell UH-1Y United States utility 2 [58] 6 on order, 2 to be donated by the U.S.[59]
Trainer Aircraft
Aero L-159 Czech Republic jet trainer L-159T1/T2[60] 8[61]
JAS 39 Gripen Sweden jet trainer JAS 39D 2[54] leased from the Swedish Air Force

Notes

  1. ^ Vzdušné síly Armády České republiky in full, literally the "Air Force of the Army of the Czech Republic"

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Bibliography