The fleets of armoured vehicles in the armies of Eastern Europe often date back to Soviet times. Most of the military equipment from that time is hopelessly outdated and irrelevant to the modern battlefield. Many countries in Eastern Europe are therefore renewing their armoured vehicle fleets.
It needs to be emphasised that the procurement funds were allocated in 2020 while the below mentioned countries reacted differently to the acquisition process. For instance, Bulgaria terminated its acquisition of the AFVs and is currently looking for possible domestic production. Although the Czech Republic postponed the tender in 2020 due to the pandemic in November 2021, the Ministry of Defence announced that none of the bids submitted meets all the requirements. However, Hungary purchased LYNX IFVs and BUFFALO ARVs from Rheinmetall and appears to be satisfied with the choice that it made. Romania started the procurement process earlier and appears to be on the right track while the Slovak government first cancelled the purchase of AFVs in May 2020 and then agreed for a new tender in September 2021.
Bulgaria – Acquisition Termination
In 2020, the country’s defence budget stood at BGN 1.94Bn (€1Bn) or about 1.93 per cent of Bulgaria’s GDP according to data released by NATO in October 2020. In 2021, the defence budget remains the same, however, there is no figure yet for 2022.
The Defence Ministry Press Office issued an official statement in March 2021 that the ministry had sent letters to General Dynamics European Land System and Patria that “it is terminating the procedure for acquiring AFVs for the Land Forces.”
The reason for termination was that the two companies’ price proposals, both of which were admitted to the second stage, significantly exceeded the framework approved by the country’s National Assembly. Krassimir Karakachanov, then Minister of Defence, instructed the management of the state company Terem-Holding EAD, to study the possibilities for the joint production of vehicles in Bulgaria with the maximum participation of the country’s defence industry. At the moment, for the newly elected government (on 13 December), the approval of the Terem feasibility study is not yet a top priority since the country is facing both economic and pandemic difficulties. However, much depends on Stefan Yanev, the old/new Minister of Defence. Whether or not things will change in 2022 remains to be seen.
Czech Republic – Disappointed Yet Looking Forward
According to Jakub Fajnor from the Defence Ministry’s Communications Department, “in 2021, the defence budget increased to CZK85.48Bn or around 1.4 per cent of the GDP. The budget for 2022 has not yet been debated since the new government was sworn in only on 17 December. In addition, the budget must be approved by the Parliament.” As a result, figures for the 2022 defence budget may be released in January or February 2022.
In April 2021, upon the invitation of the Ministry of Defence, BAE Systems sent the CV90 IFV, the General Dynamics European Land Systems’ ASCOD IFV and Rheinmetall’s LYNX IFV to the Czech Republic for testing. As one of the tender’s requirements, potential suppliers must ensure that the Czech defence industry is involved in at least 40 per cent of the contract. This has stimulated a partnership between suppliers and Czech companies. In November, the ministry announced that none of the bids submitted met all the requirements. Jakub Fajnor clarified to the author that “the programme has not been cancelled and the participants have not been disqualified. However, the programme has been halted for now and a thorough analysis of the possibilities of what to do next is going to follow. We cannot rule out a continuation of the current process, which would mean discussing the shortcomings with the contractors and asking them to submit new offers. However, the analysis will be evaluated by a new minister and his/her team in order to decide what should be the next step. Therefore it is not possible to say [at the moment] what is most likely to be the next decision.”
What is evident, however, is that similar to the procurement programme of Slovakia (discussed below), the Czech Republic faces an acute problem of obsolete Soviet-era BVP-2 vehicles and it is imperative for a new defence minister to refocus on the IFV procurement programme.
In addition to IFVs, the Czech Army plans to purchase 6×6 wheeled AFVs TITUS vehicles from Tatra Defence Vehicles – 42 pieces as command-staff and connecting configuration vehicles, and 20 pieces as wheeled vehicles for the Fire Support Coordination Centre (FSCC), including logistic support and training. The overall price, including accessories and support, is CZK6.072Bn. The delivery of the vehicles should take place between 2022 and 2023.
Hungary – Mission Accomplished
The country’s defence budget was €2.2Bn in 2021 with an increase to €2.8Bn in 2022.
Hungary agreed to purchase Rheinmetall-designed and built LYNX IFVs and BUFFALO ARVs in September 2020 which opened a new chapter in the country’s defence industry development. Furthermore, this was the largest ever defence contract in Hungary’s modern era. According to the Innovation and Technology Minister, Laszlo Palkovics, “The joint-venture [between the Hungarian state and Rheinmetall] which is currently built in Zala, is completely in line with the goal of the Hungarian Government. From 2023, one of the most modern and cutting edge armoured combat vehicles will be manufactured in Zala and thanks to the nearby ZalaZone testing field, a complex development process can be realised.” Thus, it can be said that the procurement of armoured vehicles has been accomplished.
Poland – Increase in Defence Expenditure
The country’s defence budget was amended in September 2021, with an increase of defence expenditure of PLN6.3Bn (~US$1.6Bn) to PLN58.1Bn or 2.4 per cent of the GDP. It is expected that Poland will spend PLN57.78Bn on defence in 2022 or 2.2 per cent of its GDP, excluding the below mentioned long-term M1A2 v3 ABRAMS MBT procurement programme.
In July 2021, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Head of the National Security and Defence Matters Committee of the Council of Ministers, said that “a total of 250 M1A2 v3 ABRAMS MBTs will be procured for the country’s armed forces.” The justification for acquisition of the MBTs in the budgetary bill for 2022 reads as follows: “The goal of the programme is to increase the defence potential of the Republic of Poland by acquiring modern MBTs and support vehicles for the Polish Armed Forces. The procurement envisages equipping the armed forces with MBTs, logistics, a training package and combat assets, crew training, infrastructure operations and financing of expenditures tied to the selection of the specific type of ammunition and MBT.”
The programme’s cost will be PLN23.3Bn and deliveries are to begin as early as 2022, along with the infrastructure investment process and personnel training. According to information released by the Ministry in November, a Polish tank crew has been dispatched to Idaho in the United States. After returning home, they will work as instructors for the ABRAMS MBT crews.
In November 2021, it was reported that Poland was set to acquire 300 second-hand COUGAR mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) armoured vehicles from the United States. According to the Defence Minister, Mariusz Blaszczak, under the plan, the COUGARS are to be delivered to the armed forces in the first quarter of 2022 “owing to an accelerated procedure. The contract also covers a logistics and training package.” The value of the deal is US$27.5M.
Romania – Better Than Expected
According to a press release of the Ministry of National Defence (MoND) issued in February 2021, the budget of the ministry proposed for 2021 includes funds of US$5.6Bn or 2.04 per cent of the country’s GDP. The Romanian Government allotted a little more than 2 per cent of its GDP for the defence budget or about €4.5Bn.
In 2018, the MoND ordered 227 PIRANHA V wheeled armoured personnel carriers in six different configurations. The contract, valued at €850M, provides for the vehicles to be manufactured within a scope of strategic cooperation and technology transfer between General Dynamics European Land Systems-Mowag (GDELS-Mowag) and the Bucharest Mechanical Plant (Uzina Mecanica Bucuresti, UMB). In November 2019, the production of the remaining 191 vehicles started at UMB, with its employees having been at GDELS during the production of the first vehicles.
The ministry acquired the first 36 PIRANHA V wheeled armoured personnel carriers manufactured in Switzerland by GDELS-Mowag in October 2020. The vehicles were handed over to the Infantry Battalion “Red Scorpions” of Craiova, following a successful test at the UMB. The ministry stated that the second batch of 32 PIRANHA V carriers was handed over to the Infantry Battalion “Dolj” in Craiova on 26 October.
In July 2021, it was reported that the Romanian Special Operations Forces will be equipped with 130 Oshkosh Defense Joint Light Tactical Wheeled Vehicles (JLTV). The JLTV will replace the old HUMVEE. The deal is worth about €47M. The MoND did not provide information regarding the date of arrival for the first JLTVs in the country. It is known, however, that it was a G2G contract.
In late 2020, Oshkosh Defense sent an official offer to the MoND for JLTV vehicles in the armoured and unarmoured 4×4 programme for the Army. In September 2021, it was reported that the French company Arquus will present the range of SHERPA JLTV and their industrial strategy. Arquus also intends to participate in the tender organised by the MoND for the purchase of new armoured vehicles.
In November 2021, it was reported that Oshkosh Defense was moving faster than Arquus regarding the tender. It requested an audit and initiated talks with officials of the Uzina Automecanica Moreni Plant.
Slovakia – Better Late Than Never
According to MoD Spokesperson, Martina Koval-Kakascikova, “the country’s defence budget was about 2 per cent of GDP, which dropped to 1.75 per cent in 2021 and will be €1.838Bn. However, the overall expenditure is expected to reach over €1.899Bn or 1.8 per cent of the GDP in 2022.”
The country’s procurement programme is currently at the preliminary stage. Nevertheless, it is important to emphasise that this programme is crucially important for the Slovak Army since the current fleet of armoured vehicles is obsolete. Therefore, the ministry initiated a procurement programme with a very tight schedule in October 2021: 33 countries were invited to submit their bids. Submissions of final offers for the AFV and IFV programmes are 31 December and 31 January 2022, respectively. The three best bidders will be selected in each programme and their vehicles will undergo trials in-country. Subsequently, the ministry is to present the country’s government with a recommendation for the procurement of the AFVs by the end of March 2022 and the IFVs by the end of June 2022. The first vehicles are planned to be delivered at the beginning of 2024.
The total value for the 152 IFVs is about €1.739Bn and €332M for the 76 AFVs. Slovak Deputy Defence Minister Marian Majer has said that the potential suppliers must ensure that “the Slovak defence industry is involved in at least 40 per cent of the contracts. For this reason, the Ministry of Economy will also take part in the tender evaluation process. Ultimately, our aim is to deliver realistic and long-term assistance to Slovak industry and companies.”
It remains to be seen whether or not the procurement programme will be successful and whether or not the Slovak Government has learned from the unsuccessful procurement programme of IFVs in the Czech Republic.
There is a clear realisation in these countries that procurement of IFVs and AFVs is of the utmost importance to the countries’ defence and security. The respective governments understand that their defence budgets should be 2 per cent of their GDPs in 2024 and that their militaries should have all equipment interoperable within NATO in the coming two to three years. Despite the fact that there are new governments in Romania, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, efforts are being made to pursue the ongoing procurement programmes against all odds. L
The author would like to thank Jakub Fajnor, Press Section, Communications Department, Czech MoD and Martina Koval-Kakascikova, Spokesperson of the Slovak MoD for their assistance in the preparation of this article
Mission Next-Level Weapon Stabilisation – Tailor-Made Meets ModularIn the development and production of military vehicles, time is not only money, but also relative. Years pass from the idea to the first deployment. In turn, vehicles are in service for decades before they need repairs and upgrades.