2020 Challenge: It is necessary to decide on a tender for IFVs for the Czech Army
In 2019, the Czech Republic was supposed to sign a contract with a winner of the most expensive order so far. It seemed in summer that the tender for infantry fighting vehicles would be a month or two months late. A purchase of helicopters, which was quite insignificant compared to the tender, overshadowed it medially in autumn. Does the ominous silence mean that the tender will be cancelled?
A viral campaign “We are the Army, we know what we know” caused embarrassment in spring 2019. Why does the Chief of the General Staff Aleš Opata claim publicly that the Army truly needs new fighting vehicles? We are all aware of it, it is the reason why there is the tender and the only issue that needs to be solved is the technical specification of IFVs and who will supply them. On the contrary, if the campaign was launched now it would make sense as there have been rising concerns that the tender will be cancelled or fundamentally reappraised.
The departure of the PSM consortium from the tender
The Czech Army approached seven companies in 2016 and out of them chose and invited the following IFVs for test drives in 2017: ASCOD, CV-90, LYNX and PUMA. German Bundeswehr rearms to the PUMA vehicles - and it achieved the best result in shooting during the presentation at that time. It is a joint project of KMW and Rheinmetall arm companies and they together act under the name of PSM.
The project is understandably supported by the German government which de facto paid for the development of vehicles. Due to the slowdown in German economy and mainly because of the drop in the key car industry the Chancellor would surely like to see productions lines of arms factories running.
That would still be in accordance with the condition of Czech politicians that the Czech companies must participate in at least 40 % of the order. The fact is that the German industry is built on Czech sub supplies and factories anyway. The winner of the tender will have the situation complicated since the Ministry of Defence insist on the VOP CZ state enterprise taking part in it and the enterprise is not very technically developed.
Finally, as far as the PUMA IFV is concerned, the biggest problem is its high price. However, the price has never been stated! In spring 2019 the Czech Army announced different requirements than the ones that had been know until then. It is clear that the Army changed them subsequently, otherwise, it would not have to approach PSM. The new requirements for a turret and higher transport capacity (8+3) made it overnight impossible for PUMA vehicles to participate in the tender.
It must have come as a shock for PSM managers. At first, they wanted to continue in the tender. Even though under time pressure, it could be technically possible for them to rearrange the PUMA IFV according to the Czech Army´s wishes. However, after further considerations, PSM declared that they withdrew from the tender. They also hinted in between lines of official communication that the contest was not fair but that they would still willingly participate in a new tender or intergovernmental actions.
The new requirements also significantly lowered the possibilities of CV-90. According to the spokesperson´s statement LYNX was favoured in spring, but they were waiting if it would be successful in the tender of the Australian army. In fact, an important criterion is also use of vehicles in different armies. However, only several prototypes of LYNX exist so far. Soldiers like it because it is big and modular - many versions of it can be supplied.
We should mention that Rheinmetall, the second member of PSM, offers LYNX and that they manufacture the PUMA IFV together with KMW. However, we can still assume that the German government would be more pleased with achievement of PUMA than with success of LYNX.
Just to make sure, let us also speculate about the promoters of the ACOD-2 vehicle and their feelings concerning the tender. As far as the current technical specifications of the Czech side are concerned, the ASCOD-2 vehicle is the only one that is suitable. It is supplied by General Dynamics - is European branch of American giant, and do not let us forget that based on an intergovernmental treat the Czech government recently preferred the Americans when purchasing helicopters. The connection with domestic CSG could mean an advantage.
The Czech government may run out of money and political will before the tender advances
Whereas 720 milliards EUR are designated for all remaining army investments in 2020, there are also 2.1 milliards EUR that are meant to be spent just on new infantry fighting vehicles. The amount of money is as high as the budget of the Ministry of Defence or as the announced state budget deficit. That is why everyone will fight for it... However, we do not have in mind potential manufacturers but domestic politicians. If the Czech economy slowed down or even fell into recession the amount of money could be seen as the first sand bag that Prime Minister or Minister of Finance can cut off from a falling hot-air balloon.
They are several possible scenarios. The order can be cut down to half as it happened in case of PANDUR II vehicles. After all, the number of 210 anticipated vehicles seems quite over proportional for the Czech Army reality. The same way as the 4th Rapid Deployment Brigade can get along with 107 PANDUR vehicles, the 7th Mechanized Brigade can eventually get the same amount of them.
The tender can be cancelled and replaced with an intergovernmental deal. In this case, there could be negotiations with Germans and new tanks could be part of the deal. The above mentioned VOP CZ company makes the current T-72 M4CZs serviceable again but not fit to fight. LEOPARD tanks are also between the ones that can be considered in Europe. Concretely, modernized versions in leasing programme.
LEOPARD tanks are manufactured by the German KMW arm company and it therefore seems logical that PUMA fighting vehicles would follow them. The same way as the Czech government supports its state enterprises and tries to find them customers fairly, the German government can intervene on behalf of Rheinmetall to have its share. If the politicians really though like this, the unexpected shift towards IFV LYNX in spring 2019 would make sense.
Unfortunately, it seems that the Czech Army is the last one who can have a say in this matter. Paradoxically, the cancellation of the tender and the intergovernmental deal could help it as it can be made within weeks or months. The German government would surely also appreciate it as they need to delay the arrival of recession.
The biggest 2020 challenge concerning the purchase of IFVs is to have a plan or a backup plan and to make a decision. It is necessary to count with the fact that the decision will be not only military-professional, but also and just political. Does anyone expect anything else from the order for such a price? Army´s representatives should push the only thing - for it to be at least fast. It will take other three years to create logistic facilities, retrain crews, train technicians, and finally get new IFVc (and tanks) to car fleets. Until then, the 7th Mechanized Brigade will not be fit to fight.
Note: The reader should kindly understand that the author of the article does not know what the politicians think. The possible scenarios are based on a mosaic of statements of participants of the tender that were made both officially and unofficially. For further reading and for comparison I recommend the article “The Czech Army against the tender: the order for 52 milliards is full of oddness” by Jan Kužník. The article was published on iDnes.