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The Czech Ministry of Defence (MoD) has announced its decision to procure a number of U.S. H-1 family of helicopters, which are manufactured by Bell. The contract will cover acquisition of four AH-1Z Viper attack and eight UH-1Y Venom utility/multirole helicopters.

The planned acquisition was announced yesterday, during a visit by the country’s Prime Minister, Andrej Babiš, accompanied by the head of Czech MoD, Lubomír Metnar, to the 22nd Helicopter Air Base in Náměšť nad Oslavou, “I was acquainted in detail with the acquisition of new helicopters. (…) We want to make the purchase as soon as possible. Deliveries should start in 2023,” said Prime Minister Babiš.

“We reviewed the offers received, and based on military recommendations, we decided on a variant that includes eight UH-1Y Venom multi-purpose and four AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters. We would like to conclude the contract by the end of the year,” Minister Metnar added.

According to the Czech’s MoD, the contract with Bell will be worth Czech koruna 14.5 billion (‎€563 million). This includes the cost of helicopter procurement as well as provision of weapon systems and ammunition, plus maintenance and training packages.

It has been added that following the completion of all necessary procedures, the head of the MoD will push for finalization of the government-to-government agreement with the USA. New helicopters will most likely be procured through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) procedure, and U.S. armed forces should get involved in the whole process.

The H-1 wasn’t the only rotary-wing platform considered in the Czech modernization programme, as the Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky made a determination to offer Prague a dozen if its UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters. It was reported that Lockheed’s bid was valued at Czech koruna 13,2 billion (€512 million).

Bell’s success story in Czech Republic, despite submitting a more costly offer than the other competitor, seems to be a result of not only having modern, multirole attack and utility H-1 platforms, which share 85% part commonality, but also a long-term and deep involvement in the Czech’s aviation industry and a solid position on the local market, which will only strengthen when the sales contract enters force.

Furthermore, it seems obvious, that the U.S. company will now try to push harder on other Central and Eastern European (CEE) markets, where it makes efforts to secure export contracts for delivery of H-1 attack and utility helicopters to Poland and Romania.

Michal Jarocki