WARSAW, Poland, and MELBOURNE, Australia — Securing the first Asian customer for its latest product, Czech aircraft maker Aero Vodochody has signed a contract to sell 12 L-39NG jet trainers to Vietnam’s Ministry of National Defence. Deliveries are scheduled for the years 2023 to 2024, and Czech arms exporter Omnipol is acting as an intermediary for the deal.
“We are proud to announce this crucial and strategic cooperation which is an important milestone for the L-39NG project,” Jiří Podpěra, the president of Omnipol, was quoted as saying in a statement.
The value of the deal, which includes training, spare components and related logistics support, was not disclosed. The sale includes a range of related services such as pilot and instructor training, spares, as well as ground and logistical support equipment, the company said.
The Czech Ministry of Defence certified the jet trainer last September, paving the way for the L-39NG’s exports. The move followed about 300 test flights on two flying prototypes and ground tests on two static prototypes, according to the producer. Since then, Aero Vodochody has managed to secure a contract to deliver four such aircraft in a light-attack variant to Senegal’s Air Force.
Omnipol is a minority shareholder in Aero Vodochody, with a 49 percent stake. Hungarian businessman Andras Tombor holds the remaining 51 percent of the shares.
The L-39NG is a modernized version of the L-39 trainer that was originally introduced into service in 1970. The new aircraft features a host of improvements over the original design, with a modern glass cockpit, improved avionics and the FJ44 turbofan engine by U.S. manufacturer Williams International.
The Vietnam People’s Air Force or VPAF currently operates older versions of the L-39, with an estimated two dozen aircraft still in service.
The announcement that Vietnam will acquire the L-39NG comes after the country ordered a similar number of Yak-130 jet trainers from Russia in early 2020. A news segment on Russian state TV from January showed a Yak-130 for Vietnam on the production floor of the Irkutsk Aviation Plant, which produces the jets.
It is likely that the VPAF will operate the L-39NG as a basic jet trainer, with the higher-performance Yak-130 acting as an advanced jet or lead-in fighter trainer.
Vietnam is one of six countries claiming ownership of the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands in the South China Sea, and has been one of the most vocal in pushing back against fellow claimant China’s increasingly assertive military activities in the area.
The Vietnamese military still operates primarily Russian equipment, but has in recent years acquired transport aircraft from European manufacturer Airbus and taken delivery of surplus ships from the South Korean navy and U.S. Coast Guard.
An arms embargo on the country imposed by the United States following the end of the Vietnam War was lifted in 2016, and U.S. Navy ships, including aircraft carriers, have made port visits to Vietnamese ports in recent years.
Jaroslaw Adamowski is the Poland correspondent for Defense News.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.