To date, the two countries’ military industrial cooperation remains limited in scope despite their respective ministers of defence wishing to make this cooperation tangible. However, words alone are not sufficient to turn wishful thinking into reality.
Perhaps leaders of the Czech defence industry need to change their approach and methods when it comes to dealing with their neighbour Slovakia. They need to offer higher quality products and additional financial and industrial incentives to the Slovak defence industry over the long- term period. The recent successes of the German company Rheinmetall for the 152 IFVs and of the Finnish company Patria for the 76 AFVs in Slovakia (discussed below) underscore the Czech defence industry’s current lacklustre approach.
On 20 October 2021, in Bratislava, Slovak Defence Minister, Jaroslav Nad, along with MoD and Armed Forces officials attended a presentation of Czech defence and security companies. Also present at the meeting, which was aimed at identifying potential areas of cooperation between the Czech Republic and Slovak arms manufacturers, were representatives of the Slovak Security and Defence Industry Association, the main lobbying group on behalf of the country’s defence manufacturers.
Speaking in front of the Slovak and Czech defence industry community, Nad said: “I am a supporter of intense cooperation between our countries and this is all the more true when it comes to defence and security.” Nad emphasised that: “Cooperation in the defence and security environment is guided, above all else, by the principle of mutual benefit to both countries. Over and above the scope of our cultural close- ness and good relationship, the high quality of equipment, the price offered, and the role of our domestic industry in the pro- ject are the decisive factors.”
Almost five months later, on 18 March 2022, Minister Nad welcomed Jana Cernochova, his counterpart from the Czech Republic, for bilateral talks in Bratislava. Both ministers took a close interest in deepening their armed forces’ modernisation and defence industry cooperation. Thanks largely to this, some [unspecified] defence programmes of the Slovak and Czech governments could be addressed at the G2 level. When exactly it is going to happen remains unknown. Despite some encouraging words from Nad and Cernochova, the number of coopera- tive projects between the two countries remains limited. In part, this is because the Czech defence industry’s offer proved to be less competitive compared to the recent offers made to Slovakia by the German company Rheinmetall that won a tender to provide 152 KF41 LYNX IFVs and the Finnish company Patria that won a tender to provide 76 AFVs. This is also in part because the Czech defence industry is unable to match foreign manufacturers’ qualitative performance and offset programmes. Therefore, Nad’s words have not yet been translated into defence industrial cooperation deeds. Despite such shortcomings, this article highlights several bilateral and trilateral projects.
Tracked and Wheeled (8×8) ZUZANA 2 Self-propelled Howitzers (SPHs)
In April 2018, the Slovak Armed Forces signed an agreement with the Slovak Konstrukta Defence Company (part of the DMD Group) to deliver 25 ZUZANA 2 SPHs which are also known by their export designation of Truck Mounted Guns (TMG). The total cost, including crew training, spare parts and ammunition, is €175M.
The first five out of the total 25 tracked and wheeled (8×8) TMGs – which are jointly developed by Konstrukta Defence and Czech holding Czechoslovak Group (CSG) and its majority owned Tatra Defence Vehicles, were delivered to the Slovak Armed Forces in April 2021.
According to MoD Spokesperson, Martina Koval-Kakascikova: “By January 2022, six additional pieces of ZUZANA 2 systems had been delivered to the Slovak Armed Forces. An additional 14 pieces of ZUZANA 2 SPHs will be delivered by the end of 2022. However, an agree- ment for the EVA 155/52 mm calibre artil- lery system, based on [the] TMG has not yet been signed.” When it is going to be signed is not yet known.
The main difference between the original 6×6 TMG and the new 8×8 platform design is the new four-axle truck chassis which re- placed the three-axle truck chassis in the earlier variant. This increases the vehicle’s length and weight but could also increase its tactical mobility over most terrain types. The addition of the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) also increases its field endurance, which enables the ordnance to be oper- ated without running the main engine. The ZUZANA 2 has a greater range and accu- racy and enhanced anti-mine and ballistic protection for the crew.
Tracked and Wheeled (8×8) Medium Armoured Fighting Vehicles
Unfortunately, for the CSG and its partner Tatra Defence Vehicles, the tracked and wheeled AFV tender was won by Finnish company Patria. On 30 March, the Slovak Government agreed to the MoD’s proposal to procure 76 pieces of 8×8 AFVs through a G2 agreement with the Finnish Government. The total agreement price is €447M, (including logistics, munitions and infra- structure). The following example highlights a potential for defence industry cooperation.
L-39NG Training and Light-Attack Aircraft
The Czech aircraft manufacturer AERO Vodochody AEROSPACE and the Slovak state-owned company Letecke Opravo- vne Trencin (LOTN) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in June 2021, which specifies the details of future industrial cooperation between the two countries. In the case of the acquisition of the new L-39NG by the Slovak Air Force, the cooperation will include not only the production of parts for the new L-39NG aircraft but also cooperation in logistic support for these aircraft in Slovakia or in providing a Ground Based Training. The extensive in- dustrial cooperation angle was confirmed by AERO’s Head of Sales, Jakub Hoda, citing “a long history with LOTN (on the L-29 and L-39 aircraft) in the past.”
Hoda added that: “Our new L-39NG aircraft, which was certified in September 2020, opens up a wide range of opportunities to extend cooperation. We offer relocation of production of some parts of the aircraft to Slovakia, specifically the tail section, nose, air brakes and external fuel tanks. This would make LOTN one of the most important suppliers for the L-39NG. The signed memorandum also specifies other areas such as providing services related to the L-39NG operation and involvement in other development projects of AERO.”
Lubomir Galko, CEO and Chairman of the Board of LOTN, said: “LOTN is open to further industrial cooperation with AERO Vodochody. If the Slovak MoD acquires the Czech L-39NG aircraft, we have signed a joint memorandum which contains specific areas for expanding our cooperation. This would bring LOTN new contracts and jobs, as well as interesting projects in terms of im- plementing new technologies in aviation.” Koval-Kakascikova informed the author that: “Currently, the MoD is analysing potential suppliers and preparing a feasibility study and following project for government approval.
On completion of these processes, the tender preparation process will go ahead, the estimated date is the fourth quarter 2022 or later. If new training aircraft are procured, the MoD has the intention to involve Slovak (defence) industry in their production and maintenance. Every potential contractor has the same chances to deliver new training aircraft, if and when they fulfil all the technical and legal requirements for such a tender.”
Whether or not a joint AERO and LOTN proposal has a chance to win the tender remains to be seen. If the tender goes to the joint Czech and Slovak bidder, it will undoubtedly strengthen the nascent mili- tary industrial cooperation between the two countries.
Cooperation between Explosia and Unspecified Slovak Defence Companies
In the company’s official answer to the author, it was stated that: “Explosia has been cooperating with some [unspecified] companies of the defence industry in Slovakia for many years. We are able to cooperate on orders in the field of large calibre ammunition, smokeless powders or explosives for industrial and military use.”
Cooperation between RAYService, Rheinmetall in Slovakia
On 18 August 2021, RAYService and Rheinmetall signed a contract for the production of electrical components in Slovakia. It needs to be remembered that RAYService has a production facility in Zilina, Slovakia. The contract covers cables and harnesses for the LYNX KF41 programme of the Hungarian Army, worth more than €4M for the first batch until 2022. We may also expect RAYService participation in the LYNX KF41 programme of the Slovak Army. Even though the author contacted RAYService for elaboration on the company’s participation in the Rheinmetall and the DMD Group in Slovakia, he received no answer.
The positive intentions of the two countries’ ministers of defence to deepen defence industry cooperation is welcome. However, the main stumbling block for such cooperation is that Slovakia alone and its defence companies do not provide extensive opportunities for companies from the Czech Republic. Rheinmetall’s recent success in winning the tender to manufacture LYNX KF41 IFVs, and equally so for Patria to manufacture AFVs in Slovakia, highlights the well- established European companies’ qualitative edge over their Czech competitors.
At the same time, the above mentioned case of the Czech company RAYService highlights the potential for trilateral cooperation via RAYService participation in the LYNX KF41 IFV headed by Rheinmetall and its partner in Slovakia, the DMD Group. As regards Explosia, the long-term cooperation that company officials did not want to elaborate on highlights a less explored or perhaps a less highlighted example of cooperation between the two countries.
The author would like to thank Martina Koval-Kakascikova, Spokesperson of the Slovak MoD, for her assistance in the prepa- ration 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.