Czech multi-purpose helicopters tender – four Vipers cannot be effective

Czech multi-purpose helicopters tender – four Vipers cannot be effective
24 / 10 / 2019, 10:00

Recently the Czech Army changed its requirement for twelve multi-purpose helicopters, and now it demands eight multi-purpose and four attack helicopters. It has chosen the system H1 which comes with a 85% compatibility of parts between Venom and Viper as one of its advantages. However, many experts mention one puzzling dimension of this acquisition project: the number of the Vipers. Four are really few. The Army states it would purchase more in the future, and that it would operate 12 + 12 helicopters of the H1 system. Perhaps. But until then?

Except perhaps for the first moments and introductory presentation deployments, four Vipers will inevitably face a situation of one being used for the crew training, one will undergo regular maintenance, one will be out of service due to an operational problem, failure or defect, and only one will be deployable for active duty. We are already witnessing the under-financing of the army in the case of other vehicles. For example, 30 modernized tanks T-72M4 CZ, which have served for 15 years. As a result, there are only ten operated at present. Recently, media reported that 20% of the Pandur II CZ wheeled infantry fighting vehicles are inoperative. The military explains the problem, among other things, by the delivery time of spare parts from Israel (the RWS). And lack of money. It also responds in the same way in the case of the helicopters acquisition: "We need to take into account the financial possibilities. We consider Venoms and Vipers as a system that can be expanded in the future."

See also: Czech Army’s Modernization Projects: the multipurpose helicopters

So now we get four Vipers, which share 85% of parts with the all-purpose Venom, but the manufacturer is located across the ocean. Even the best and most durable technology requires regular maintenance. And it must be used for training. And so the entire „fleet“ (of four in this case) can never be ready for deployment. One or two machines are not capable of effective combat deployment on modern battlefields. The eight Venoms will be in a similar situation, and in reality, the army buys 12 machines, but only a fraction will be deployable in real time, while the pilots of both the Viper and the Venom are eventually substitutable, the machines in their role are not not. Venom and Viper complement each other, but cannot replace each other in most tasks.

Which are the states that have four attack helicopters in service? According to Global Firepower, these are Afghanistan, Cuba and Macedonia. Uganda and Mali have five of them each. In all cases, however, these are the multi-purpose Russian (Soviet) Mi-35. A very different helicopters when compared to the single-purpose Viper. Is there an air force in the world that operates four (or similar low numbers) purely attack helicopters? In absolute numbers, among the European states that have specialized attack helicopters, the „weakest“ air force seems to be the Royal Netherlands Air Force. It deploys 28 Apache helicopters. Italy has 32 Augusta A129 machines. There is no NATO Air Force with just four attack helicopters. Or twelve.

See also: Multipurpose Helicopters - Dramatic difference of price between Italian and American solutions

The four Vipers not only reduce the capacity of the multi-purpose helicopter fleet as a whole, but it is impossible to imagine that they could effectively support ground troops actually. The Army says the number is not low, but is says also that it will increase their number, which actually means the number really is low. It also states that the H1 system can perform the search and rescue missions and provide fire support – indeed, but only in the desired ratio of 8: 4. Venoms can perform fire support missions with rockets or machine guns, but they cannot carry guided missiles. And that's the point. The army required the new helicopters to be able to carry guided missiles – so in the end it was not possible to purchase twelve Venoms. In order to acquire the Venoms, the Army came up with the "system", reduced their number down to eight, and added four Vipers (and let’s forget that it only buys 14 Hellfire missiles for the Vipers). The problem is that before they might ever buy more, the four Vipers will be desperately ineffective. In fact, in the framework of the present acquisition project, the Army purchases two different, albeit related, machines, thus eliminating future suppliers' contests in a tender that has not been discussed at all, a potential tender for single-purpose attack helicopters.

The acquisition procedure of the American helicopters is attacked by the Italian aviation concern Leonardo: "The contracting authority completely restricts competition for the contract throughout the EU, discriminates against other potential suppliers and proceeds in a non-transparent and uneconomical way." The Army responds: “The military requires a proven helicopter with certified weapons such as cannons and missiles. We only received such an offer from the American side.” If the Leonardo Group's objections are not upheld, it will contact the Czech Office for the Protection of Competition and, if appropriate, the European Commission.

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