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Are the L-39 Combat Training Jets Worth Trying to Shoot Down a UAV And Why It Is a Bad Idea

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The L-39 of the 114th Tactical Aviation Brigade, December 2021 / Open source photo
The L-39 of the 114th Tactical Aviation Brigade, December 2021 / Open source photo

Instead of various improvised weapons, to combat any enemy air threats, Ukraine needs such Western fighters as the F-16

As soon as it comes to the threat of the Shahed-131/136 UAV’s, various proposals are offered in Ukraine’s information space, one of them is to use the L-39 Albatros combat training jets. It is said that even in the basic version of the L-39 it’s possible hang two blocks of unguided S-5 missiles on such planes, and shoot at UAVs with this.

Some may even recall that in the front cockpit of the L-39 there is an aviation sight ASP-ZNMU-39, designed to simulate shooting both at air or ground targets. And it might seem that this is the perfect "Shahed fighter" for air battles in the style of the Korean War. However, there are nuances.

Read more: ​Videos of Ukrainian Pilots Training on A-10 are Fake and Dangerous: We Explain Why
Are the L-39 Combat Training Jets Worth Trying to Shoot Down a UAV And Why It Is a Bad Idea, Defense Express, war in Ukraine, Russian-Ukrainian war
Aviation technicians of the 40th brigade carry out maintenance of the L-39 aircraft, September 14, 2022 / Credits: ArmyInform

The L-39 Albatros is not structurally adapted for attacks on small-sized and low-speed air targets. In particular, there are questions that the ASP-ZNMU-39 can hardly provide the necessary firing accuracy to target as the Shahed-131/136 with one or more S-5 unguided missiles. It is also known that Iranian kamikaze drones can change direction during flight. So, the question arises whether the L-39 has the necessary maneuverability to hunt such air targets.

After all, Defense Express states theoretical aspects. But there is also a practical one, which is the following: even with rich experience of combat use of the L-39, there are hardly any cases when this aircraft was used for attacks on air targets, and in all episodes is was with no success.

Are the L-39 Combat Training Jets Worth Trying to Shoot Down a UAV And Why It Is a Bad Idea, Defense Express, war in Ukraine, Russian-Ukrainian war
Afghan Air Force Training L-39s that become Taliban Trophies in 2021 / Credits: Oryx

The first combat use of the L-39 began in 1979 with the Afghan Air Force, hitting ground targets with bombs and unguided rockets.

Iraq had 22 L-39 training jets and 59 L-39ZO aircraft (have 4 suspension nodes and can be used as light attack aircraft), used them during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988 to strike ground targets with unguided missiles, for reconnaissance and correction artillery fire and even to use chemical weapons. Air battles involving Iraqi L-39’s were not recorded, although here we are talking about a war with desperate episodes like the battle between the Mi-24 and the F-4 Phantom.

Are the L-39 Combat Training Jets Worth Trying to Shoot Down a UAV And Why It Is a Bad Idea, Defense Express, war in Ukraine, Russian-Ukrainian war
Iraq currently uses the L-159 / Illustrative photo from open sources

Libya actively used its L-39ZO during the war in Chad, and that also only for attacks on ground targets. The Sandinistas in Nicaragua used their L-39ZO for more original tasks, namely to hunt down enemy boats and small sea vessels. The first among the post-Soviet countries to use the L-39 in combat was Azerbaijan, during the war against Armenia in 1990-1994, and then these jets were also applied against ground targets.

And now we come to why there are hardly any cases when the L-39 was applied against air targets, and all of them failed.

Are the L-39 Combat Training Jets Worth Trying to Shoot Down a UAV And Why It Is a Bad Idea, Defense Express, war in Ukraine, Russian-Ukrainian war
Damaged L-39 of the Ichkeria Air Force / Archival photo from open sources

Firstly, russian-language sources claim that in 1994 one L-39 of the Ichkeria Air Force allegedly tried to attack Mi-24 forces of the pro-Russian anti-Dudaev opposition.

On the one hand, such an act of desperation on the part of the defenders of Ichkeria should not be ruled out, since at that time they had 111 L-39 aircraft, of which only a few were operational. And on the other hand, in order to justify their invasion of Chechnya in 1994, russians actively spread the myth that Dzhokhar Dudayev supposedly had fifty "mercenary pilots" who were so well trained that they were even capable of air combat on the L-39.

Are the L-39 Combat Training Jets Worth Trying to Shoot Down a UAV And Why It Is a Bad Idea, Defense Express, war in Ukraine, Russian-Ukrainian war
Syrian L-39ZA / Illustrative photo from open sources

The second case happened in March 2020: the regime of Bashar al-Assad took to the air several of the L-39ZA’s (distinguished by the presence of the GSH-23 cannon) to attack Turkish drones. This attempt was also unsuccessful, as one Albatros was shot down by the Turkish F-16 with the AIM-120C missile, and other Syrian aircraft withdrew from the battle.

Ukraine is not in a situation to rely on improvised weapons. Therefore, to fight against "flying mopeds" that can strike deep into Ukraine’s territory, Western fighters as necessary, primarily the F-16.

Read more: ​Ukraine's Defense Intelligence Says Recent Events in russia’s Bryansk Region Indicate That Armed Protest Against Regime Possible Inside Russia