Acquisition of the IFVs needs a rational reduction and change of format - the tender steps on the spot and blocks funds for important projects

Acquisition of the IFVs needs a rational reduction and change of format - the tender steps on the spot and blocks funds for important projects
04 / 02 / 2021, 10:00

Last week, Prime Minister Babiš announced that he would return five billion to the Army, and another five "probably" in February. The chairwoman of the Defense Committee, Jana Černochová, commented on this, saying that such a procedure does not solve the problem, and mentioned the potential consequences for the replacement of tracked Infantry Fighting Vehicles. The Ministry of Defense plans to spend four billion crowns on them in 2021, which, according to Černochová, are included in the discussed ten billion removed from the defence budget. At the same time, this is far from the only problem of the tender, which has dragged on for years, and for which the ongoing pandemic and the associated measures will probably be a blow to grace.

The IFV tender was object of another of the Prime Minister’s changes of opinion last spring. During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government sought possible solutions to the difficult economic situation at the time. This was only a subtle hint of what we are experiencing now and what awaits us, but even then, at the beginning of the Chinese flu problem, the Prime Minister suddenly questioned the acquisition of 210 Infantry Fighting Vehicles in exchange for the obsolete BMP-2s. In March 2020, he said that "we probably don't need the IFVs immediately today" and a month later he literally said: "At the moment, there is probably no situation for us to buy IFVs for 50 billion. More or less, we agreed with the Ministry of Defense to slow it down."

See also: End of the IFV tender? PM Babiš ordered minister of defence Metnar to stop the purchase

In less than two months, he turned around completely and supported investment in modern military equipment. The problem with financing the project in the light of the return of only five billion crowns for the time being is fundamental, regardless of the form of acquisition of the vehicles. There is a valid international commitment to build a heavy-type brigade task force on January 1, 2026. This should become the core of NATO's Very Rapid Reaction Force (VJTF) for that year, and the Czech Republic simply cannot afford not to provide the Alliance with a brigade for such a task and to say that it has failed to do its homework. And it is not just this "formality" - we need a modernly armed Army, and only by a responsible approach to our work of collective defense can we guarantee its effectiveness.

But time is running relentlessly. At the beginning of November 2020, information came that the anti-pandemic measures did not allow the planned tests of functional prototypes of competing vehicles to be carried out from late October to early December, and there was talk of moving them to January or February. Given the tender completion date, which would fall shortly before the parliamentary elections, this already sounded very doubtful. Today, The Government’s measures against the pandemic were even tightened recently. According to the Ministry of Defense, if the situation allows, it would like to start testing by the end of the first quarter of this year.

Looking at the course of the tender, the decision of which has been postponed many times so far, with the problems concerning the choice of legal service provider, changes in requirements, and looking at the development of state finances in the current difficult times, it seems to be rather very optimistic to continue with the same approach.

See also: Another delay of the Czech IFV tender. Now COVID is the reason

The Ministry continues in the set tender, which also entails the commitment of budget funds for this project, ie 4.2 billion crowns for this year. The decision is threatened by further postponement, and if it was probable at the end of last year that the tender would not be completed by the election, it is now practically certain. The soldiers will hopefully start testing functional prototypes by the end of March, so they will probably end the tests by the beginning of May. The tests will need to be evaluated and a decision made, and it is more than likely the unsuccessful candidates will present their objections. Their appeal and possible further legal action must be taken into account, and the Ministry of Defense really does not have time. The MoD seemed to refuse to see these risks. But that doesn't mean they don't exist.

It is strange that while self-propelled guns, multi-purpose and attack helicopters or the SHORAD anti-air system are easily obtained by the Ministry of Defense through intergovernmental agreements, in the case of IFV, for which there is a strict time limit, unlike for the other mentioned projects, it insists on completing the unfortunate tender. The alternative solution, which was discussed in November by, for example, the chairwoman of the Defense Committee, Jana Černochová, and especially the quick purchase in the form of an intergovernmental agreement, is the purest procedure. The main problem with the procedure that the MoD insists on, in addition to the risk that it will not be completed on time, is that it is blocking funds within the budget. They will not be used, and we see in the case of ten billion crowns what can happen next.

See also: The Army will get back only 5 billion crowns and it must wait again for the remaining money

Although there is no doubt that the BMP-2 of the Czech mechanized infantry needs to be replaced, the fact that a huge tender with a total value of over 50 billion crowns is a huge burden on the defense budget, and may jeopardize the implementation of other projects. These relate to the needs of the Army in the field of, for example, ambulances or transport vehicles. The Army still uses a large number of first-generation T815 transport vehicles from the 1980s, about as old as the BMP-2. In a difficult economic situation, a rational reduction of the IFV acquisition project could help the Army in other and no less necessary areas, not only in the context of its deployment in hospital assistance during the pandemic.

The Ministry of Defense strongly insists on the completion of the project, the parameters of which were set at a time of optimistic prospects. The Prime Minister personally questioned the whole project already at a time when the economic problems of the Czech Republic were a fraction of those we are facing today. It is not certain that it will be possible to actually test the prototypes on time. However, the deadline of January 1, 2026 is fixed. Reducing the scope of the acquisition will save money and the purchase of IFV in a government-government format will give it a rational time frame.

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