In recent years a number of countries in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) have launched comprehensive modernisation efforts for their armed forces. Many projects, the goal of which is to enhance the operational and combat capabilities of the forces, enabling them to operate on the modern battlefield, are implemented with significant assistance from the German defence industry. The German Government and numerous defence companies play a role as suppliers of modern weapon systems and as partners for the local industry.
Hungary Invests in German Combat Vehicles
In early September, Rheinmetall announced that Hungary had awarded the German company an order to supply 218 LYNX KF41 Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV) armed with a manned 30mm LANCE turret. The contract, which was signed in Budapest, encompasses the delivery of IFVs, nine BUFFALO armoured recovery vehicles, related products and services, such as simulators, training and instruction, plus an initial supply of spare parts as well as maintenance support. It has an estimated value of more than €2Bn.
Rheinmetall expects further orders resulting from this contract, as the fleet of Hungarian IFVs will have a lifespan of several decades. As a result, the user nation will have to establish an efficient and proven supply chain for spare parts and services offered by Rheinmetall and its international industry partners.
In the first phase of the procurement programme, Hungary will take delivery of 46 LYNX IFVs and 9 BUFFALO armoured recovery vehicles, all built in Germany. Delivery of this batch of vehicles is expected to conclude in 2023.
Subsequently, the second phase of the project will see a 172 additional LYNX vehicles being built in Hungary. In August 2020 the Hungarian Government and Rheinmetall agreed to set up a joint venture company in Hungary. The new venture will be responsible for setting up the local production of LYNX vehicles, their testing, delivery and future maintenance.
Under the terms of the agreement reached with the Hungarian government, Rheinmetall will hold a majority stake and take the lead in the joint venture company. Hungary agreed to make significant investments in the project, leading to the construction of the new production facility. As a consequence, the local defence industry will gain new capabilities for production, testing and maintenance of modern combat vehicles. The planned involvement of the Hungarian defence companies in the procurement project will see a significant part of the contract’s value being re-invested in the local economy.
“We greatly appreciate the Hungarian Government’s trust in us which this order implies”, commented Armin Papperger, Chairman of the executive board of Rheinmetall AG. “Rheinmetall is very proud to be able to make an important contribution to the sustained expansion of Hungary’s defence technology capabilities in cooperation with local industry.
We look forward to working together with our Hungarian friends and partners and will do everything in our power to assure the long-term success of this venture”, he added.
Procurement of LYNX KF41 IFVs is another step in the process of technical modernisation of the Hungarian armed forces, all of which is significantly related to the acquisition of German-designed armoured combat vehicles. In December 2018, the Hungarian Ministry of Defence (MoD) signed a contract with Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) for delivery of 44 new LEOPARD 2A7+ MBTs and 24 new 155mm PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzers as well as a dozen LEOPARD 2A4HU from KMW’s stocks for training purposes. Deliveries of LEOPARD 2A4HU started in summer 2020.
Czech IFV Procurement
Another major procurement programme in which the German defence industry intends to play a significant role, is the planned acquisition of 210 tracked IFVs for the Czech Army.
Rheinmetall Defence, which has been a major player in the Czech Republic’s defence market for many years, is one of the front-runners in the tender for the future contract.
The project, which has an estimated value of CZK53Bn (€2Bn), will lead to gradual phasing out of currently operated, obsolete BVP-2 combat vehicles, introduced into service in Soviet times.
The German company has invested a significant amount of time and resources in establishing stable and flourishing cooperation with local partners. With the anticipated finalisation of the Czech Republic’s new IFV project, which is expected to lead to the selection of Rheinmetall’s LYNX KF41 as the most favourable platform, the company envisions further investments in the Czech defence industry and an increasing involvement of local partners in the production and maintenance of the vehicle.
Rheinmetall’s LYNX KF41 tracked IFV features a high degree of modularity.
The vehicle includes a number of tested and combat-proven technologies, which significantly enhance its mobility, lethality, survivability and adaptability, making it an appropriate platform to operate in diverse combat environments.
The vehicle can be fitted with various mission kits and survivability packages; its propulsion system features an 850 kW (1140hp) Liebherr engine and a proven Renk transmission. With a weight of approximately 44 tonnes, the power-to-weight ratio is 26 hp/t.
In the combat configuration, the vehicle is fitted with the LANCE 2.0 turret integrated with the new WOTAN 35 electrically driven cannon firing the company’s 35x228mm ammunition family. Furthermore, the LANCE 2.0 can be fitted with a variety of sub-systems, such as Rafael’s SPIKE LR2 ATGMs, non-line of sight strike loitering munitions, UAVs or an electronic warfare package, installed on mission pods to the left and right of the turret, giving it a more a specialist capability.
Aside from the IFV, the offer submitted by Rheinmetall in the scope of the Czech tender also relates to significant benefits for the local defence industry, which would play a major role in production, testing, delivery and maintenance of the future weapon system.
Rheinmetall identifies a number of opportunities resulting from further investing in cooperation with local partners. The expected selection of LYNX KF41 will allow the German company to significantly enhance its presence in the country and establish a stable partnership with local manufacturers and sub-contractors for decades to come. It is expected that the selection of the LYNX KF41 vehicle for the new Czech IFV and further investment of Rheinmetall in the local defence industry would allow the creation and maintenance of as many as 1000 local jobs.
Promising Industrial Cooperation
Rheinmetall competes with two other companies which also made an offer in response to the Czech IFV RfP, namely General Dynamics European Land Systems with the ASCOD 2, and BAE Systems with the CV90. A fourth company, which initially had shown its interest in the Czech programme, Projekt System & Management GmbH (PSM), a JV of Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Rheinmetall Landsysteme, eventually decided not to bid.
The German manufacturer remains committed to reaching the final procurement agreement with the Czech MoD, despite the fact that the whole tender procedure has been significantly delayed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In mid-March, in response to the coronavirus pandemic and expected economic crisis, the Czech Republic’s Prime Minister, Andrej Babiš, announced that the authorities had revised planned investments in the country’s defence and military capabilities and that a number of programmes, which were to change the posture of the Czech armed forces for decades, faced suspension or even cancellation. Among the projects, the fate of which was to be determined in due course, was the IFV procurement.
However, despite temporary impediments and a very likely delay of the procurement programme, it remains certain that the planned acquisition of a series of new IFVs for the Czech land forces, although temporarily postponed, will eventually reach its conclusion.
Ex-German LEOPARD 2 MBT Modernisation in Poland
In late 2015 the Polish MoD signed a contract for the modernisation of a batch of 128 LEOPARD 2A4 MBTs acquired in the 2010s from German Army stocks, designated 2PL in Poland. Under the terms of the agreement, a number of Polish defence companies, such as the Polish Armaments Group (Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa, PGZ) and its subsidiaries ZM Bumar-Labedy, WZM (Wojskowe Zakłady Mechaniczne), PCO, Zakłady Mechaniczne Tarnów, ROSOMAK, and OBRUM were supposed to participate in the project.
The contract’s original value was set at PLN2.4Bn (€520M). In 2018 the agreement was amended, and an annex regarding the modernisation of an additional 14 LEOPARD 2A4s, from the batch acquired from Germany in 2014-2015, were made part of the modernisation plan. As a result, the total cost of the project increased by PLN 300M (€65M).
Shortly after the original contract was signed, a consortium of Polish defence companies started negotiations with Rheinmetall Landsysteme for the companies’ participation in the project. Finally, an agreement was reached under which the German manufacturer would be responsible for working out a precise modernisation plan and implementing all required modifications on a number of prototype LEOPARD 2PL vehicles.
Rheinmetall also agreed to help the Polish defence industry to develop the required expertise, which would be crucial to undertake full rate modernisation of MBTs in the coming years.
The first prototype LEOPARD 2PL vehicles were handed over in 2018. Initially, they were delivered to ZM Bumar-Labedy. Following their delivery, which was spread over a few months, they were subject to a series of company and field tests. The goal was to confirm that all required modifications were implemented and that the modernised vehicles featured the required operational capability.
However, during the testing period a number of irregularities and technical issues were identified. Furthermore, the Polish MoD and the Army decided to add new features to the MBTs, which had not been part of the original project and which required additional, time-consuming, technical work.
As a result, the Armament Inspectorate of the Polish MoD reported at the beginning of 2020 that the deadlines for the delivery of upgraded MBTs would not be met. Current estimates predict that the full fleet of 142 modernised LEOPARD 2PL vehicles will be delivered to the Army by 31 July 2023 (with 43 vehicles in 2020).
On 24 December 2019, the Armament Inspectorate signed an amendment to the original agreement, covering additional work and services as part of LEOPARD 2PL modernisation. Therefore, PLN569M (€124M) had to be added to the programme’s budget, bringing the total cost of LEOPARD 2PL modernisation to PLN3.2Bn (€700M).
“The tests of the LEOPARD 2PL prototype have not yet been concluded due to a number of areas which still need to be confirmed in terms of their compliance with several dozen requirements laid out in the Technical Specification“, Major Krzysztof Platek, a spokesperson for the Armament Inspectorate, stated in February 2020.
Overall, the LEOPARD 2PL modernisation programme covers the implementation of a number of new onboard systems and equipment, such as new/upgraded observation and aiming sights for the commander and gunner, improved ballistic protection of the turret, a new electronic system for turret traverse and cannon elevation, installation of a more effective fire suppression system, new command and control system, an additional APU generator, additional cargo carrying equipment and an upgraded evacuation/towing system adjusted to the greater weight of the vehicle, a new fire control system, new ammunition (DM63 antitank and DM11 multipurpose) and a day/night reverse camera for the driver.
Gradual Implementation of LEOPARD 2PL MBTs
During the MSPO 2020 exhibition in Kielce, held from 8 to 10 September, the Polish Army presented a modernised LEOPARD 2PL MBT. The vehicle belonged to the Orbat of the 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade in Świętoszów, which is the first unit in the Polish Army to operate these modernised vehicles. The brigade had taken delivery of its modernised MBTs at the end of May 2020, months later than previously planned.
Shortly after the MSPO 2020 exhibition, the Polish MoD confirmed that a batch of another three LEOPARD 2PL MBT was delivered to the 1st Warsaw Armoured Brigade in Wesoła, near Warsaw. The unit is subordinate to the 18th Mechanised Division in Siedlce.
The newly delivered vehicles were tested during a series of exercises conducted by elements of the 1st Warsaw Armoured Brigade and other combat units of the 18th Mechanised Division, such as 19th Lublin Mechanised Brigade in Lublin and 21st Podhale Rifles Brigade in Rzeszów and an independent 25th Air Cavalry
Brigade in Tomaszów Mazowiecki.
Today, the Polish Army has probably taken delivery of at least nine modernised LEOPARD 2PL MBTs, with six vehicles handed over to the 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade, subordinate to the 11th Armoured Cavalry Division in Żagań. These are used for training tank crews and maintenance personnel.