The Czech T-72 tank modernization project not canceled – but it should be

The Czech T-72 tank modernization project not canceled – but it should be
Caption: T-72M4 CZ
30 / 04 / 2020, 10:00

The need to modernize the armament of the 7th Mechanized Brigade, ie to resolve the issue of tracked IFVs and to have an effective and modern tank battalion, is defined by the Czech Republic's commitment to provide a heavy mechanized brigade task force with three mechanized and one tank battalion as part of NATO defence planning – by 1st January 2026. For years, we have watched the delays in the tender for new IFV. And for almost a year there has been talk of modernizing the T-72. The first tender is likely to be stopped by the crisis, to the relief of many concerned, and an alternative and cheaper solution will need to be found. However, the Ministry of Defence continues to promote the second contract.

The Army and the Ministry continue to count on the project to modernize the T-72 tanks, which is meant to "bridge" the period until the introduction of new modern Main Battle Tanks. There are less than six years left. The task force of the heavy brigade is to be prepared with a tank battalion on 1st January 2026. During these less than six years, the Ministry of Defence wants to manage the development, testing and introduction of the modernized variant of thirty T-72M4 CZ tanks, and at the same time the selection, testing, purchase and introduction of modern tanks.

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

At the beginning of the year, in connection with a significant increase in the price for passive surveillance systems VERA NG, it was found that a similar increase "out of nowhere" will also happen in case of the T-72 modernization project, which was allocated to the state-owned company VOP. As a result, the project was suspended. In February, Defence Minister Lubomír Metnar said that until the real price of modernization projects was known and justified, he would not tolerate price increases, and no contract would be signed for the modernization of tanks (and the Mi-171Sh helicopters).

And now it has been more than two months, but no information on the result of the price verification has been published. We asked a question to the Ministry of Defence, which answered:

"Currently, intensive negotiations are underway between the contracting authority, the Ministry of Defence of the Czech Republic and VOP on the offer price of modernization of T-72M4CZ. The Ministry of Defence of the Czech Republic is trying to reduce project risks and price so that the modernization of T-72M4CZ tank is realized in the planned time, with planned costs. At the moment, the Ministry aims to complete the negotiations this summer and submit the conclusion to the Minister of Defence for approval."

The planned price was almost one billion crowns. However, the project also has troubles in terms of scheduled time. The modernization must be developped, tested, performed and put into operation according to the assignment. And let's add that up to two thirds of the T-72M4 CZ tanks have been replaced in service by the stored T-72M1 for a long time due to underfunded maintenance, and therefore, in addition to modernization, the tanks will also need to be repaired. In terms of price, let's add long-term costs for the maintenance of modernized equipment, which is to serve with the Active Reserves after the acquisition of modern tanks by the professional part of the Army.

See also: Further modernization the ex-Soviet Czech T-72M4 CZ makes little sense

If, in times of prosperity in the professional army, the number of operational vehicles has gradually dropped to one third, what can Active Reserves expect at a time when we will still feel the effects of the economic crisis, which would have taken place even without the pandemic that only accelerates and multiplies its consequences?

The modernization of the T-72M4 CZ tank cannot be achieved in time to meet the declared purpose - to bridge the period before the acquisition of modern tanks - they should be fully introduced and ready for deployment on 1st January 2026. At best a billion, at worst a higher amount will be missing from the budget, which, in addition to the new tanks, will have to cover a long list of other necessary projects. And we will get for it an obsolete and unsaleable unique variant of the T-72 tank for Active Reserves, which today use the same T-72M1 as two thirds of their professional colleagues, and which would use much better an older versions of the vehicles used in the future in the professional army. For logical reasons, a unified infrastructure, sources of spare parts, training elements, etc. Yet, the T-72 modernization project is still running.

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