Air Force exercise Lion Effort has gotten underway in the Czech Republic. Over the next fortnight, some 500 personnel including pilots, ground crews and air defence from four different countries, will cooperate on numerous training missions.
It has been 10 years that Gripen fighter jets have guarded Czech airspace and Gripens, also used by Sweden and Hungary, join the Czech Republic taking part in military exercises now underway in East Bohemia. While the Gripens are arguably the centerpiece of Lion Effort, they are not alone, but are being joined in the skies by L-159 light fighter aircraft, Mi-24 attack helicopters, transport helicopters and CASA transport planes. The exercises at Čáslav airbase are to continue through May 23 and are meant to test the readiness and effectiveness of NATO allies and crews. Czech Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jaroslav Míka:
“The ultimate purpose of the exercise is not just operations in the air, because at the end of the day we know how to conduct those, but to focus on logistics on the ground.”
Tuesday morning saw the first mission launched, with 26 aircraft taking off, flying above Bohemia and Moravia. The head of the Swedish mission, Lieutenant Colonel Tommy Petersson, explained one aspect of the exercises underway: that cooperation was not just between participating countries.
“We have two different squadrons from two different airbases so it is also about interaction within the Swedish Air Force itself.”
Taking part in the military exercise in the role of “aggressors” from abroad will be German Typhoon Eurofighters and Polish F-16s, taking off from their respective airbases. Thailand, which like the Czech Republic and Hungary flies Gripens, is also taking part but in an observer role only.
Slovakia, meanwhile, will also be paying attention, as it is considering leasing up to eight Gripen fighter jets to replace its aging Russian MiGs. A decision in the affirmative would be welcomed by the Czechs for logistical reasons and greater cooperation. If Slovakia signs on, three of the four Visegrad countries will be using the same planes. Czech Defence Minister Martin Stropnický:
Slovakia’s defence minister confirmed that there are obvious benefits to leasing the Gripens involving logistics and training centres but a decision is expected only by the end of the year. In the Czech Republic, meanwhile, Lion Effort will wrap on May 23 with an Open Doors day at Čáslav and an airshow, likely to draw a high number of visitors.
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