The Czech MoD is set to launch a tender for 210 tracked infantry fighting vehicles, 62 TITUS armoured personnel carriers, 20,000 pistols and 14,000 attack rifles, and eight mobile air defence radars in 2019.
The defence budget hiked by 13% for 2019 as the Czech government seeks to increase annual spending to 1.4% of GDP in the short term. The General Staff of the Czech Armed Forces announced in June 2018 plans to invest US$4.5Bn on armaments through 2027 in what would constitute the largest military modernisation effort in the country’s history.
Some elements of the country’s defence industrial base remain intact following the post-Cold War downsizing and the split with Slovakia, but the sector has been insufficient to address many modernisation needs. Despite limited options on the home market, the Czech government may prefer to order from domestic firms whenever possible.
The Czech Republic is a NATO member, but years of declining investment and ageing hardware have led to a need for an influx of newer materiel. The lack of an immediate strategic threat and the decreasing tempo of overseas missions reduced the need for large-scale modernisation.
Reversing the Trend
Following years of utter neglect, the Czech government began reversing the downward trend in 2014; the goal is for defence spending to equal 1.4% of GDP by 2020 and 2% by 2025. Though defence budgets have finally begun rising, topline spending offers limited the ability to invest in expensive equipment on any scale.
Czech governments are generally supportive of NATO- and EU-led initiatives. Although free and fair democratic elections are held and power transfers are peaceful, the Czech political environment has been unstable and the country has averaged a new government every two years since 1993.
The country’s national debt rate is not problematic, remaining below EU Stability & Growth Pact rules. Prague has improved its budgetary situation, narrowing annual deficits but economic growth remains uneven. The local currency – the Koruna – has sagged in value versus the USD and the Euro.
Since 1993, when the Czech Republic achieved independence, the transformation of the Army of the Czech Republic (ACR) has been profound. During its first year independent from the former Czechoslovak confederation with neighbouring Slovakia, the Czech armed forces consisted of five active divisions (two being armoured), seven brigades, and seven aircraft regiments. Today, there are only four brigades (two mechanised, two specialist), and only 37 combat aircraft and 23 armed helicopters remain.
Under the Defence Ministry’s Concept 2025 and the Long-Term Outlook for 2030 plans, the Army of the Czech Republic will be reshaped. By 2026, the armed forces hope to total approximately 30,000 active-duty troops, with about 5,000 dedicated to technical specialties such as cyber warfare and robotics.
The Czech armed forces are completely professionalised; conscription officially ended on 31 December 2004. A return to conscription became a point of discussion for the Czech government in 2015.
The Czech Army has one rapid reaction brigade (the 4th, based at Zatec), deployable within 20 days. This force is the backbone of the Czech Republic’s NATO, UN, and OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) peacekeeping forces. It consists of two mechanised battalions (41st and 42nd), the 43rd Airborne Battalion, and the 44th Light Motorised Battalion.
The Army’s main territorial defence force is composed of the 7th Mechanised Brigade at Hranice (which itself is composed of the 71st and 72nd Mechanised Battalions, the 73rd Tank Battalion, and the 74th Light Motorised Battalion at Bucovice). In addition, the 13th Artillery Brigade is stationed at Jince (composed of the 131st and 132nd Artillery Battalions).
The land forces also include the Logistic Support Brigade (14th) based at Pardubice, the 15th Engineer Brigade based at Bechyni, the 31st NBC Defence Brigade based at Liberec, and the 53rd Passive Surveillance System Brigade based at Opava.
Air bases include the 21st Air Base at Caslav for tactical air assets, the 22nd Air Base at Sedlec-Vicenice (L-39 trainers and attack helicopters), the 23rd Air Base at Prerov (Mi-17/Mi-171 helicopters), and the 24th Air Base at Praha-Kbely, where both fixed- and rotary-wing transport assets are stationed.
The ACR intends to greatly increase its UAV inventory through 2021, with the procurement of armed UAVs (UCAVs) a central part of its focus. The ACR also hopes to acquire additional SCANEAGLE drones, at a cost of CZK1Bn, by 2020.
The Czech Republic has also joined the multinational European Medium-Altitude Long Endurance Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (European MALE RPAS) project headed by Germany under the Permanent Structure Cooperation (PESCO) project mechanism. Prague entered the multinational team, which also includes France, Italy and Spain, on 19 November 2018.
The Army of the Czech Republic intends to phase out much of its existing fleet and replace it with cheaper, more modern alternatives. The reshaping of the helicopter force will not be done on a one-for-one basis, as budget pressures preclude purchasing and maintaining a like quantity of helicopter platforms.
The six functioning PZL W-3 SOKOL aircraft (out of a total of 10) were slated for retirement by 2014, but instead the full 10-unit inventory will receive overhauls that will keep them operational.
The core helicopter programme on tap is the replacement of the ACR’s remaining Mi-24/35 attack helicopters – slated for retirement in 2017 and 2018 but which remain in service – with up to 30-35 new light, multipurpose helicopters. The new utility-type helicopters would be procured in several batches through 2020 under ACR plans, with a prospective first-batch procurement – a 12-unit buy – announced in May 2016. The government had hoped to select the winning platform for this initial purchase in 2017, with the requisite funds (CZK6Bn – CZK12Bn) already earmarked for the project.
Once brought into service, the new helicopters will perform multiple roles, including armed combat support, light troop transport, medevac, and search and rescue. New helicopters specifically configured for the attack role to replace the Mi-24s and Mi-35s have been ruled out altogether.
The Czech Defence Ministry would also like to begin replacing the Soviet-legacy Mi-17 and Mi-171 transport helicopters. But this requirement appears to have been merged with the aforementioned multipurpose helicopter requirement as a means of maximizing limited capitalisation funds.
The Czech close-range air defence component is the Russian-made self-propelled STRELA-10M (SA-13 GOPHER). These were upgraded in the late 1990s. The Czech MoD received clearance by the government in July 2017 to procure 16 RBS70 NG man-portable air defence system launchers from Saab Dynamics to replace the ageing SA-13s. A contract worth US$40.3M was signed with Saab on 18 December 2018. The new launchers are expected to arrive between 2020 and 2021.
The land-based air defence component is the 40+ year-old SA-6 GAINFUL (2K12 KUB) manufactured by Vympel. The Czech Republic aims to replace the SA-6 systems with more modern hardware by 2020. Under a first phase procurement programme, an acquisition of fewer than 10 batteries costing roughly US$246M is being pursued. The Czech MoD issued a Request for Information to five companies in the fall of 2016: Lockheed Martin, MBDA, Kongsberg, Rafael and Diehl.
Meanwhile, the Czech MoD’s intention was to retain the SA-6 surface-to-air systems through 2018, which means their service lives will need to be extended because they were expected to expire between 2018 and 2020. Options such as replacing their 3M9 missiles on a one-for-one basis were being considered.
A potential FMS procurement may emerge in the form of Czech MoD request for 180 Raytheon GBU-12/GBU-16 PAVEWAY II precision-guided munitions intended to equip Czech Air Force GRIPENs and L-159 ALCA light attack/trainers.
Then Czech Defence Minister Karla Slechtova announced in March 2018 that her ministry would not sign a contract for eight Israeli-made IAI Elta Systems EL/M-2084 multimission radars due to questions regarding their interoperability with the NATO air-defence network. The Czech National Cyber and Information Security Agency had not signed off on the documentation for the purchase of the 3-D radars, thus negating forward movement on the deal. Without the agency’s certification, the radars cannot be integrated into NATO infrastructure.
A fresh procurement for eight medium air-defence mobile radars (MADRs) will be initiated in 2019 directly with the Israeli government, as per a statement by new Defence Minister Lubomir Metnar on 17 December 2018. This procurement is estimated at US$129M. The aim is for a final agreement by mid-2019 with delivery of the first radar system to commence within 22 months of contract signing.
The Czech Army’s artillery largely consists of the 122mm multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) RM-70 GRAD, plus the 152mm self-propelled M-77 DANA (ZUZA NA). Both of these were developed and brought into service in the former Czechoslovakia more than 30 years ago.
A US$55M upgrade for 33 of the 152mm DANA self-propelled howitzers was approved by the government in July 2017 and was expected to be finalised later in September, but instead was delayed until after the October elections. That project would also include the acquisition of 17 new 155mm self-propelled howitzers to be completed by 2020.
The (then) new defence minister, Karla Slechtova, opted to go in a different direction, announcing in February 2018 that the MoD would instead acquire 50 new SPHs from a NATO ally at a cost of around US$490M. This plan has, too, apparently been abandoned, leaving the MoD scrambling with how best to upgrade the ACR’s artillery capability.
Saddled with old Soviet- and Warsaw Pact-legacy materiel following independence and military missions in Afghanistan, the Czech MoD has been making its strongest procurement pushes in the area of armoured vehicles. Because of the type of threats Czech forces encountered in Afghanistan and the shortage of necessary kits, orders came in quickly.
Following an initial order for four Iveco 4×4 Light Multirole Vehicles (LMVs) placed in 2007, the Czech MoD placed an urgent operational requirement (UOR) order for 15 more in October 2008, bringing the total to 19.
The military then purchased 90 additional Iveco LMVs with a follow-up order for 30 LMVs made in January 2010. Another 80 LMVs were being procured in 2018-19 for delivery in 2020-2022. These will be used by the ACR’s Chemical-Biological-Radiological-Nuclear (CBRN) battalion based in Liberec.
The Czech MoD announced on 28 February 2017, its plans to procure 700 light 4×4 vehicles to replace the ACR fleets of Russian-made UAZ and British Land Rover DEFENDER vehicles that have been in service for 20-30 years. The MoD has invited 12 bidders to demonstrate 20 different models with the goal of bringing the new vehicles into service starting in 2020.
The Czech military was rumoured to be considering the withdrawal of its fleet of T-72CZ main battle tanks from service with the 7th Mechanised Brigade as part of a cost-saving measure. Some 30 T-72CZs were modernised early in the 2000s, at a cost of around US$2.5M; another 134 were to be modernised as well, but due to budgetary concerns and altered force structure plans, the reformation of the Czech Army into a lighter, more deployable force took precedence. Instead, the MoD will seek to sell off those remaining 100+ tanks, while the 30 T-72M4 CZs will remain in service until 2025.
In November 2012, the MoD announced it would begin seeking the acquisition of 30 new armoured wheeled Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, worth several hundred million Czech Korunas. That requirement grew to 42 units, with the MoD recommending the Nexter Systems TITUS 6×6 as the preferred model in October 2015. A total of CZK2.7Bn has been ring-fenced for the procurement, which involves local work as well, since the TITUS utilises the 6×6 chassis provided by local truck-maker Tatra. All the vehicles will be built and assembled at the Tatra Trucks production facility in Kopřivnice. Deliveries will run between 2019 and 2023.
Tatra Trucks was also the beneficiary of a US$65.5M order from the MoD for 18 N3G-V trucks.
Also on the procurement docket are an extra 86 Tatra Defence T810 6×6 trucks in various configurations, including tankers and recovery models meant for the PANDUR 8×8 fleet, as well as 80 4×4 light armoured vehicles for the ACR’s 31st Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) Defence Regiment. The latter contract – estimated at US$233M – will involve the MoD’s Military Research Institute (VVU) based in Brno acting as prime contractor. The vehicles will be based on the Iveco LMV 4×4 chassis and delivered between 2020 and 2022.
The Czech MoD selected local defence contractor Eldis Pardubice, on 28 August 2018, to supply the ACR with 62 TITUS 6×6 light armoured infantry wheeled vehicles. The procurement falls under an urgent operational requirement (UOR) and was originally intended for local vehicle producer Tatra Trucks, which jointly developed the vehicle with France’s Nexter Group.
When Tatra Export failed to obtain a relevant security clearance – including license from Nexter Systems – the Czech MoD opted to change the local contractor to Eldis Pardubice (also a part of industry conglomerate Czechoslovak Group). The TITUS is mounted on a Tatra Trucks chassis.
Earlier, the Czech government had considered a pooled acquisition of the vehicles with Poland before opting to pursue its procurement unilaterally.
The 62-unit purchase is estimated at US$303M. The order involves 42 command-and-control models and 20 fire-control and coordination variants. A final contract will be inked with Eldis Pardubice in 2019. Deliveries will run from 2020 through 2025, according to the ministry.
The BMP Replacement Programme
The Czech MoD began moving forward on a planned acquisition of 210 tracked armoured infantry fighting vehicles (AIFVs) in 2017. These are intended to replace the Soviet-legacy fleet of Russian-designed BMP-1 and BMP-2 tracked AIFVs, which date back to the early 1980s.
The project, considered urgent by the MoD, was intended to run from October (issuance of tender) through December (downselection of winner) of 2017, but the electoral clock and political considerations disrupted the timeline.
Nonetheless, trials of five competing platforms got underway in mid-2017, shortly after the MoD announced its plans for the procurement. By November 2017 the MoD had announced that all five competing models – including two variants of the BAE Systems Hagglunds CV90 (one with a manned turret, the other with a remote weapon station), the General Dynamics European Land Systems ASCOD, the Projekt System Management PUMA, and the Rheinmetall Lynx KF31 – had successfully completed field trials and passed all the minimum requirements.
The four manufacturers who presented their platforms for trials will be invited to make firm bids in 2019 with the hopes of downselecting a type and inking a contract by August 2019. Deliveries would then run from 2020 through 2025.
The 210 new vehicles will be acquired in six variants: infantry fighting vehicle (IFV), command and control, communications, engineering, recovery, and armoured ambulance.
The PANDUR II APCs
The ACR General Staff pushed for the procurement of the (now) General Dynamics European Land Systems – Steyr (GDELS-Steyr) PANDUR II in order to meet an outstanding requirement for new command-and-control and communications vehicle platforms, and the MoD announced in August 2015 plans to purchase 20 of these vehicles. However, funding pressures forced the MoD to delay the procurement until 30 January 2017, when a US$82M contract was awarded to the Tatra Defence Vehicle company (which had obtained exclusive assembly and marketing rights from GDELS in 2015). Under the order, the ACR will receive 20 new PANDUR IIs in two variants: the aforementioned command and control vehicle (6) and a communications platform (14).
The General Staff prefers the PANDUR II option due to its protection and off-road capabilities, but more importantly because the vehicle is already operated by the ACR as an armoured infantry fighting vehicle. The new PANDURs will be assigned to the 4th Rapid Reaction Brigade. They are due to be delivered in 2019
Edward Hobbs, is a Director at Hawk Associates, one of the leading global providers of security and defence intelligence and analysis for governments and industry.