Modernization of Land Forces after coronavirus: Reduction of the IFV project, wheeled vehicles and new tanks. How to deal with budget cuts?

Modernization of Land Forces after coronavirus: Reduction of the IFV project, wheeled vehicles and new tanks. How to deal with budget cuts?
30 / 03 / 2020, 10:00

The state budget deficit was increased from the current CZK 40 billion to CZK 200 billion. This will have a major impact on the acquisition projects of the Ministry of Defence and the Army of the Czech Republic. The most challenging is the acquisition of 210 tracked Infantry Fighting Vehicles for the estimated price of 52 billion Crowns. What solutions are available?

The crisis associated with the COVID-19 pandemic has major impacts on the state's economy due to increased morbidity, the need for major sanitary measures, including the acquisition of protection and prevention means for tens of millions of Crowns, and production shortages, thus causing financial losses at all levels of the economy.

Small, medium and even large enterprises, such as Škoda Auto, are closed. According to the Government, it will be necessary to revise the budgets of individual ministries. Some government officials, including the Prime Minister, say that the IFVs are unnecessary in the current war against the virus and that finance can be better used elsewhere, such as in health care.

See also: Budget measures of the Ministry of Defence to counter the pandemic – Venoms and Vipers as unnecessary luxury

This was criticized by the opposition, referring to the reduction in the number of Gripen fighters after the floods in 2002, when the planned 24 aircraft were reduced down to only 14, which is considered insufficient in terms of the needs of the Czech Air Force. Similarly, the acquisition project of the Pandur 2 wheeled IFVs was reduced during the subsequent economic crisis.

The rearmament of the 7th Mechanized Brigade is one of the priorities of the modernization of the Army of the Czech Republic and is closely related to our formal commitments to the North Atlantic Alliance, in particular the need to renew/develop the capabilities of the tank force.

7th Mechanized Brigade is composed of 4 combat battalions: three battalions of mechanized infantry (71, 72, 74) and one tank battalion (73).

The 71st and 72nd Battalion are currently operating the outdated BVP-2 IFVs, the 73rd Battalion operates the T-72 tanks. Modernized T-72M4 CZ on paper, yet two companies have the older unmodernized vehicles, because the upgraded tanks are not in the best technical condition. The 74th Battalion does not mention any vehicles on its website, but at the same time it is intended to be the first to get the new tracked IFVs.

The following vehicle variants are required by the Army:

  • Combat
  • Command
  • Reconnaissance
  • Engineer
  • Ambulance
  • Artillery reconnaissance
  • Recovery

The 73rd Tank Battalion is going to be re-equipped by 2026; until than the General Staff wants to upgrade the existing T-72M4 CZ, which is a costly project, which makes little sense.

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

What are the options to rearm the 7th Mechanized Brigade in case of drastic economic measures and budget cuts?

1) Reduction of the IFV acquisition project - replacement of some of the tracked vehicles by wheeled vehicles

Savings can be found in replacing some types of tracked vehicles with wheeled vehicles, namely:

  • Reconnaissance vehicles can be replaced by wheeled vehicles. Tracked vehicles have the advantage of greater passability and the ability to turn in place, their disadvantage is high noise compared to wheeled, which is a relatively important factor for reconnaissance vehicles in the rear of the enemy. In addition, the newly introduced IFVs do not have the ability to float, so the first watercourse will stop the reconnaissance unit until the arrival of the engineer units and the construction of a pontoon bridge or ferry.
  • Engineer vehicles can be replaced by wheeled vehicles too. Engineer units do not advance in the first line, it is more important for their ability to defend themself in case of necessity, removing roadblocks, obstacles, explosive traps and minefields. At the same time, the engineer vehicle should have the ability to float in the event of the need to cross the watercourse and construct a bridgehead.
  • Ambulance vehicles can be replaced by wheeled as well. Taking into account the course of the operation, tanks are escorted by the IFVs and are followed by APCs or wheeled IFVs and only then ambulance vehicles can be driven to collect the wounded without endangering the wounded or paramedics in the ongoing battle. The wounded are usually concentrated in collection points, and the medical vehicle is intended to evacuate them using a safe route and immediate treatment rather than riding across the battlefield under enemy fire.
  • Artillery reconnaissance vehicle is similar to the classic reconnaissance vehicle. It also should be able to cross the watercourses. Artillery reconnaissance, or artillery observation, is not intended as the first-line mean, it uses the sensor head to observe and transfer data. Even given the specification, where the MoD/General Staff request arming it only with a large-caliber machine gun, it is evident that it is not meant for heavy combat. It can be assumed that the operator will have time to prepare the point from which the sensor head observation will be held and prepare its route. The use of a tracked chassis is not strictly necessary.

See also: Major Czech defence industry companies adhere to Government emergency regulations and continue to produce

In contrast, the following options must remain tracked:

  • Recovery vehicle must have the capacity to recover the heaviest vehicle in the unit, which in this case would be a combat IFV variant with 30-40 tons, and wheeled rescue vehicles may not even reach them in difficult terrain, let alone recover and tow them.
  • Command vehicles are also to be kept on tracks as planned, if the vehicles will proceed together with the fighting first-line unit. In the case that it was more of a staff vehicle located at the command post in the rear than a wheeled vehicle could be used, such as the Pandur 2 currently introduced at the 4th Brigade, but apparently this is not the case.

2) Reduce the number of basic combat versions of the tracked IFVs by half

As in the case of the Gripens and Pandurs 2 in difficult times after the floods and during the last economic crisis, and although this is a very difficult decision, it may be inevitable to undertake a similar reduction in the tracked IFV project. Even after subtracting the aforementioned variants, whose tasks may be carried out by cheaper wheeled vehicles, there is a need to further reduce the number of basic combat variants, to arm/rearm 1-2 battalions instead of 3.

Rearmament of only one battalion (74th) is feasible due to the separation of battalions. Such a situation would have an increased impact on the coordination of logistics (our very small army would operate three types of infantry fighting vehicles, two of them on the tracks). Certain advantage of such a solution would then be the opportunity to become familiar with the technology and train members of other battalions before the technology is introduced for them as well.

3) Cancellation of the T-72M4 CZ modernization and introduction of new MBTs

Regardless of the IFV project, the 73rd Tank Battalion needs to be re-equipped to honor the commitments to NATO. Efforts to modernize the non-perspective T-72M4 CZ will only drain the scarce resources. After all, in the currently calculated value of this modernization, ie about one billion Crowns, five modern tanks can be purchased; and much more older ones, yet still disproportionately more powerful than the T-72; older tanks would be used for training, like the Hungarian Army acquired its Leopards 2A4.

The most economical option for the purchase of new tanks seems to be the leasing option. KMW and the EDA European Agency are working with the “EuropeanArmory” project. This is about the most widespread Main Battle Tank of the European armies of NATO: LEOPARD 2. Hungary has alternatively opted for a leasing option directly from the manufacturer.

See also: Tank Leopard 2: The best choice for the Czech army, other options are just a makeweight

The advantage of this solution is that the countries operating these tanks are part of the LEOBEN association. Member armies share training and use experience, and, if necessary, spare parts or ammunition.

In conclusion, economically most advantageous in the long term would be to limit the number of tracked IFVs and partially replace them with wheeled vehicles for specialized variants. In addition, armored wheeled vehicles are already being manufactured in the Czech Republic and this would be a very desirable support for the domestic industry today and in the future. At the same time rearm the tank battalion with LEOPARD 2. Initially, „sharing and pooling“ would allow training and repair to be shared with the neighboring Bundeswehr, which would bring additional savings.

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