The modernization of the Czech Army should support the Czech defense industry

The modernization of the Czech Army should support the Czech defense industry
Caption: Wheeled IFV Pandur II
16 / 07 / 2020, 10:00

The coronavirus pandemic has caused a significant economic slowdown and has required and will still require huge financial costs, which will naturally have an impact on the state treasury. Therefore, the Government must increase the debt and at the same time look for savings, and immediately began to talk about cuts in the defense budget, and about the cancellation of certain acquisitions. Part of the concern was allayed by statements by the Government, the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister in May and June that the main modernization programs of the Czech Army must continue. Nevertheless, a number of unanswered questions remain, which concern other important projects and opportunities for the application of the domestic defense industry.

At one of the May press conferences, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, Minister of Defense Lubomír Metnar and Chief of General Staff General Aleš Opata expressed the view that the previous situation where the Army is the first "victim" in the need for public savings must not and will not be repeated. After all, it was the great performance of the Army in the crisis that probably contributed to the fact that the defense budget should not be reduced, as some have feared in recent months. Prime Minister Babiš and Minister Metnar also mentioned the need to support the domestic defense industry, where a large number of qualified employees work and from which tax revenues and modern technologies flow. The modernization of the Army should therefore take maximum account of the involvement of Czech companies. Purchases of BREN assault rifles from Česká zbrojovka and purchases of ballistic vests from STV Group were given as concrete examples at the conference. There were also promises that four large-scale modernization programs concerning "large" military equipment should continue.

See also: Prime Minister Babiš on Czech Army acquisitions: I think we should buy 210 IFVs

In the first place is the purchase of 210 new Infantry Fighting Vehicles for the amount of 53 billion crowns. It is this acquisition, the largest in the history of the Czech Army, that has recently been talked about as the most endangered by the intended cuts. However, the need to replace the existing BVP-2 vehicles is simply so acute that this plan cannot be canceled, although the conference announced that a way was being sought to spread supplies and payments over a longer period of time. Czech companies should participate in this project at least at 40%, which means that they should receive over 21 billion crowns from the total value of the project. This is undoubtedly a positive news, regardless of which of the offers the ministry will select, although it should also be noted that the largest part of the domestic share will probably be acquired by the state enterprise VOP CZ, which is to act as a system integrator. At present, it is a highly loss-making company and there have been speculations before that the Ministry's adherence to the extensive involvement of VOP CZ in the project is primarily a manifestation of its efforts to save this company. It should therefore be all the more true that the entire contract for vehicles should be won by a tenderer who, in addition to the "mandatory" engagement of VOP CZ, will also offer the maximum possible share for other Czech suppliers.

It was also announced that self-propelled guns (155 mm) will be purchased to replace the current 152mm DANA howitzers, and new short-range anti-aircraft systems (SHORAD) are needed as a replacement for the outdated KUBs. According to the original plans, there should be 52 self-propelled guns for the sum of up to 6 billion crowns and four anti-air batteries for the sum of up to 10 billion crowns. In the first case, the French CAESAR has already been selected, while in the second case, unofficial sources agree that the favorites include the American SL-AMRAAM system and the Israeli SPYDER. Self-propelled guns and anti-aircraft systems should in any case be built on domestic TATRA chassis, so in both projects it is possible to count on some (albeit minor) involvement of Czech companies.

See also: New Czech howitzers need a modern fire control system – why do not they come together

The fourth major modernization project, which continues, is the acquisition of 600-1,200 passenger off-road vehicles for up to two billion crowns. They are needed to replace the Land Rover Defenders and ex-Soviet UAZ vehicles. However, a question arises about the involvement of Czech companies, because none of the serious candidates is produced in the Czech Republic, although there is talk of the possibility of purchasing a Land Rover New Defender, produced in Slovakia in a military version, which incorporates some components of Czech subcontractors.

Also the equipment of the 14th Logistics Support Regiment and the 15th Engineer Regiment is aging considerably, as both of these units still operate mainly equipment built on Tatra T 815 old series chassis, which come not only from the 1990s, but often from the 1980s. It was the activity of Army trucks during the pandemic crisis that proved to be highly important, as soldiers took part, among other things, in the distribution of protective equipment. For the logistics regiment, the purchase of new flatbed trucks and, in addition, hook loaders, which are standardly used for work with cargo pallets and containers, was already preliminarily planned. However, they can also play many other roles, because many types of special equipment are now designed in pallet or container form, and therefore these loaders can carry it. A similar situation exists for the Engineers. In their case it is necessary to replace, among other things, bridge and recovery vehicles. Also in this case, acquisitions of modern successors were planned, and thanks to their new TATRA chassis and Czech superstructures the share of domestic suppliers should exceed 90%. Therefore, questions about the fate of these acquisitions should be directed at senior military and state officials.

There were also reports that the Army withdrew from plans to introduce a new type of tank by the end of the 2020s. There are 30 modernized T-72M4 CZ tanks on paper today, but the reality of the present is unfortunately that due to the unavailability of spare parts for the fire control system, several specimens are out of service, so one of the three companies of the 73rd Tank Battalion must use hopelessly obsolete T-72M1 variants. Earlier information appeared that the Army wants to carry out a "life cycle extension" (a kind of "small upgrade") on thirty tanks, which would, in addition to the fire control system, also apply to the engine and allow to extend their operation until a successor is selected.

See also: Czech Army acquisitions – the Army says it has no budget for modern MBTs

Among other things, there was talk of a variant replace the MBTs with light tanks on the chassis of the new infantry fighting vehicle, and recently the proposal to be inspired by Poles, and to agree with South Korea on the purchase and "localization", or even licensed production of K2 Black Panther tanks. In both cases, domestic companies would certainly be significantly involved, while the Czech industry will participate in the modernization of T-72M4 CZ only to a limited extent (probably again meant mainly for the state enterprise VOP CZ), and moreover the future of the Czech tank troops is not clear.

Recent weeks have brought some positive news for the Czech Army and the defense industry, as the defense budget should not suffer fatal cuts and at least a few major modernization projects should continue to run. This mainly concerns the intention to buy new Infantry Fighting Vehicles, howitzers or anti-aircraft systems. However, questions arise over other programs that may not be so attractive, but are highly important to the Army and are characterized by a high proportion of Czech industry. These are mainly the Pandur II and TITUS armored vehicles or logistics and engineering equipment on TATRA chassis. The promise not to skimp on the Army's capabilities while maximally supporting the domestic defense industry is certainly commendable and far-sighted, but care must be taken to ensure that specific actions also coincide with it.

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