Medium tanks for the Czech Army?

Medium tanks for the Czech Army?
Caption: MMWT
13 / 08 / 2020, 10:00

In the discussion on the future of the Czech tank troops, which are represented by a single battalion in the paper strength of thirty modernized T-72M4 CZ tanks, a possibility reappeared of a cheaper solution than the purchase of modern Main Battle Tanks. This solution should be the introduction of the so-called medium tank, either designed separately or using the chassis of an Infantry Fighting Vehicle. There are obvious reasons not to do this and to invest in the proven means that form the backbone of the armored forces of the surrounding Allied armies.

The Army of the Czech Republic is beginning to push for time on the issue of modernizing the armament of its tank troops. By modernization we mean the rearmament to modern vehicles, not the "technical improvement" of the existing T-72M4 CZ tanks, which the Army still called "modernization" back in 2018. The only understandable, but difficult to accept, purpose of this project is to feed the VOP CZ state enterprise. Its price doubled at the turn of the year, which attracted general attention. Now it is back to the original level of about CZK 1.1 billion - but at the cost of lower performance by the supplier. From a broader point of view, the main thing is that the result of this "modernization" will not be a modern Main Battle Tank, but repaired tanks which are three decades old.

See also: Czech Army’s Modernization Projects: T-72M4 CZ Main Battle Tank

At the same time, it is doubtful that this project could be completed until the acquisition project of a replacement for old tanks is seriously launched. The Army wants to honor its commitment to the Alliance to build a heavybrigade task force, to be ready on 1st January 2026. In addition to the largest arms order in the history of the independent Czech Republic, the acquisition of 210 tracked IFVs, this date also applies to the Main Battle Tanks - the "heavy brigade" has and will have in addition to three battalions of mechanized infantry also a tank battalion. In this respect, however, the Army seems to be retreating slowly. The chief of staff said he "did not have 20 billion to buy new tanks." And it is this lack of resources that is the main engine of thinking about a cheaper alternative: the acquisition of medium tanks.

Medium tanks are vehicles with a weight of 20-40 tons, ie related to modern Infantry Fighting Vehicles, from which they differ, if we simplify, by lower transport capacity and stronger cannon armament. These are vehicles of a completely different category than the Main Battle Tanks. Different purpose, different parameters. For vehicles that do not have a great chance of success in direct contact with the Main Battle Tanks due to a lower degree of ballistic protection, weaker armament or even significantly lower ammunition storage (14-16 rounds against five dozen), and their deployment must take these disadvantages into account. It is certainly true that tanks are not the main opponents of tanks. Lower weight, ie higher tactical and strategic mobility, undoubtedly bring the category of medium tanks their advantages. It depends primarily on where and how the tank units are to be deployed. And this is the main issue when considering medium tanks for the Czech Army.

See also: Czech Army should buy new tanks, not upgrade the T-72 – former Chief of General Staff says

Who does introduce medium tanks into service? In the case of the Turkish-Indonesian MMWT project, in addition to Indonesia, there is speculation about Bangladesh, Brunei, the Philippines and Ghana. China has its medium tank, its modern Main Battle Tanks simply got too heavy. And the US are also developing their project in this area. These are either developing countries with limited resources, or countries whose armies operate mainly in difficult terrain (jungles, mountains, islands, minimal infrastructure), and the US is a country whose military has and clearly wants to maintain and develop its ability to intervene anywhere on the planet. So even in the case of the US Armed Forces, a lighter tank may make sense.

 The Army of the Czech Republic is in a completely different position in this respect. Our heavy brigade is not intended to intervene on the opposite side of the planet, but to defend the territory of the Czech Republic and the territory of the Allies and in close coordination with them. Once our tanks are sharply deployed, which is quite certain when looking at human history, the operations in which they will participate will take place in an area with developed infrastructure, in an area of ​​intensive agriculture, in a terrain that is largely flat. In general, in the regions for which the Main Battle Tanks of the current generation were developed. The Main Battle Tanks are more efficient in combat in urban environments too, which is due to their higher load capacity and the possibility of installing more effective passive and active protection. And more than in ranged combat, the psychological factor of a 70-ton tank also comes into play here.

Medium tanks may have an advantage in difficult terrain, in the jungle, when crossing lower load-bearing bridges or in the mountains, but we do not have much jungle in Central Europe, we know our bridges and watercourses well, and our tiny tank force cannot specialize to fight in the mountains. After all, even the Swiss army does not deploy medium tanks. It has 134 Leopards 2, because despite previous considerations of specific conditions in the construction of its own armored vehicles, it came to the conclusion that compromises are not an appropriate way. One Swiss officer summed it up: "It is true that not all Swiss army armored vehicles have a good climb speed in the mountains, but the second factor is that if someone lands on the tops of the mountains, one day they must descend…" And the Leopards are clearly ruling there.

See also: The first two modernized Leopard 2PL Main Battle Tanks ready for the Polish army

A fundamental argument against the consideration of a cheap and untested path in the modernization of the tank force, ie the acquisition of medium tanks, is the fact of the need for compatibility with neighboring armies. In connection with their armored formations, our brigade will be deployed. The only meaningful solution is the type of tank that all neighboring countries have, with the exception of Slovakia, and now also the nearby Hungary: Leopard 2. Any thoughts about the Czech Army pioneering in its own way are from this point of view out of place. One of the fundamental problems of the current situation is that the 73rd Tank Battalion has unique technology, the T-72M4 CZ. This inevitably makes maintenance and operation more expensive. On the other hand, the introduction of a system operated by the surrounding armies brings the possibility of mutual support in this regard as well.

If Poland and Hungary, countries that are economically weaker than the Czech Republic, can afford to buy modern Main Battle Tanks, there are no convincing arguments for the Czech path of delays and evasive solutions. Let's buy some exotic medium tanks, and thus continue in our role of the weakest element. Or let us finally begin to act as a responsible ally and bring our armed forces into a fully combat-ready and ally-compatible state.

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