KVAČR 2035 wants to accelerate the purchase of engineer vehicles. Army wanted Australian Bushmaster, now updates market research

 10. 12. 2023      category: Army of the Czech Republic
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As part of the November meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Defence, the Vyškov-Dědice barracks presented to the MPs the elaborated Concept for the Construction of the Army of the Czech Republic 2035, in which, in addition to a number of postponements of acquisition projects, there was also one project that has been accelerated. This is the "universal wheeled platform of the engineer army", which may be a new platform not yet introduced in the Czech Armed Forces.

The news about the "universal wheeled platform of the engineer army" was already made during this year's IDET in Brno, when the former and recently dismissed director of the state enterprise VOP CZ Marek Špok signed a memorandum of cooperation with Thales on 25 May. The memorandum concerns the possibility of launching the Bushmaster vehicle for the needs of the Czech Armed Forces. Lieutenant General Karel Rehka, Chief of the General Staff, and Deputy Minister of Defence Daniel Blažkovec were also present at the signing.

Foto: Na 17. ročníku veletrhu IDET v Brně státní podnik VOP CZ podepsal memorandum o spolupráci se společností Thales | IDET
Picture: At this year's IDET trade fair in Brno, the state enterprise VOP CZ signed a memorandum of cooperation with Thales | IDET

Director Špok said at the time: "This memorandum is the result of long-term negotiations based on a feasibility study for a universal wheeled platform for the Czech Army Engineer Corps, which recommended Bushmaster vehicles as the solution. The former Chief of the General Staff of the Czech Army, Army General Ales Opata, confirmed to VOP CZ in 2022 his interest in acquiring these vehicles, adding that the Czech Army had started the preparatory phase of the tender process in 2022."

Thales Central Europe Vice President Günther Trummer was also quoted in the press release, "The Bushmaster protected military vehicle has proven itself in operations in the Middle East, Europe, Africa and the Pacific and is well known for its ability to protect soldiers on the ground and save lives during operations. Thales is committed to working with VOP CZ and PRAMACOM-HT and we are excited about the opportunity to support the Czech Army with this cutting-edge capability," and PRAMACO-HT's Managing Director Jiří Oulehla also confirmed his interest in the contract, "Together with Thales and VOP CZ, we will work together and participate in its integration and delivery of selected systems in the areas of optoelectronics, communications and C4ISTAR and adapt it to the specific requirements of the Czech Army."

As already mentioned, there is a feasibility study for the project, which was prepared by the Military Technical Institute s.p. for CZK 1.5 million. The study technically and economically evaluates the potential risks, limitations and opportunities in the acquisition of 50 new wheeled vehicles of medium weight category (up to 20 tonnes), meeting the requirements of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) in three variants: for the performance of road clearance tasks - the so-called Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP). Route Clearance (12 MRAP RCP vehicles), Explosive Ordnance Disposal (22 UKP-EOD vehicles) and Combat Engineer Support (16 UKP-ZEN vehicles), their additional equipment, liaison architecture, training, repair, combat and training losses and spare parts kit composition. A market survey for MRAP RCP vehicles was announced by the MoD in July 2018, but was already planned in 2017.

Foto: Obrněné vozidlo Bushmaster | Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
Picture: Bushmaster armoured vehicle | Ministerie van Defensie / Public domain

The Bushmaster vehicle is currently used by the armed forces of Australia, the UK and the Netherlands (and Ukraine, thanks to Australian support). The Czech Army would add another wheeled platform to its armament if the Bushmaster is acquired. In addition to the Pandur II 8x8, TITUS, Iveco LMV, Dingo 2 and some old vehicles from the CSLA era that are being phased out, the Bushmaster would be the next armoured wheeled vehicle of our army. One would expect that the army would rather want to give preference to TITUS vehicles for reasons of unification and simplification of maintenance logistics (and the Ministry of Defence with regard to the support of the Czech domestic industry).

These armoured vehicles are developed and manufactured by Tatra Defence Vehicle in Kopřivnice in cooperation with the French state-owned company NEXTER. So far, the Czech Armed Forces have ordered three variants of the KOVS, KOVVŠ and MKPP, totalling 62 units, while interest in up to several hundred vehicles on this platform in total has been repeatedly mentioned. TITUS uses a modified chassis of the Tatra 815-7 6x6 model series and its parameters are logically proposed to be used also for the engineer troops, to develop corresponding variants and their superstructures, and thus share the advantages of a common platform across the armed forces. TITUS is also an MRAP or MRAV vehicle, but several tonnes heavier than the Bushmaster. In addition, the 6x6 chassis (the Bushmaster armoured vehicle is on a 4x4 chassis) would provide excellent ground clearance.

Foto: Obrněná vozidla TITUS 6x6 KOVS a MKPP | Michal Pivoňka / CZ DEFENCE
Picture: Armoured vehicles TITUS 6x6 | Michal Pivoňka / CZ DEFENCE

In terms of industrial cooperation, i.e. the actual share of domestic industry in the development and production of vehicles, the involvement of the state enterprise VOP CZ and the Czech partner Thales is significantly lower than if the army relied on the already established TITUS vehicle platform, the development and production of which are fully localized in the Czech Republic. 

Let's take a closer look and compare the two armoured vehicles. The Bushmaster 4x4 armoured personnel carrier has been in service since 1997 (the TITUS prototype was first publicly presented in 2013, the vehicle passed the military trials of the Czech Armed Forces at the end of 2022 and the actual deliveries to the Czech Armed Forces began this year). The Bushmaster is lighter than the TITUS (15.4 tonnes compared to the 17-27 tonnes of the Czech vehicle), has a comparable speed (100 km/h on the road compared to 90-110 km/h for the TITUS), and can carry fewer troops (in the basic version a driver and 9 passengers, while the TITUS can have a crew of up to 14). The Bushmaster has a claimed range of 800 km, the TITUS 700 km. The Bushmaster within the Australian Armed Forces exists in troop transport, command, assault engineer, anti-aircraft, self-propelled mortar, direct fire support, service vehicle and ambulance variants. The TITUS is introduced in the Army in the variants KOVS (wheeled armoured vehicle liaison), KOVVŠ (wheeled armoured vehicle command and staff) and MKPP (fire support coordination point). However, at IDET in 2021, we could also see an engineer version of the TITUS vehicle.

Foto: Obrněné vozidlo TITUS v ženijní verzi | Michal Pivoňka / CZ DEFENCE
Picture: TITUS armoured vehicle in engineer version presented at IDET 2021 | Michal Pivoňka / CZ DEFENCE

On the website of the Ministry of Defence we can learn the following about the TITUS vehicle: "The TITUS vehicle on the unique TATRA chassis is characterised by a high level of modularity. It can be deployed in a variety of roles and configurations required by different types of troops - from infantry transport to combat support and combat security functions or from peacekeeping operations to counter-terrorism interventions."

In prioritising the Bushmaster vehicle over the TITUS, the question is whether the TITUS is too heavy for engineers or whether representatives of the Army are concerned about the length of development of the required variants, for example. One argument could also be the fact that potential engineer variants of the TITUS have not yet been introduced in any army, unlike the Bushmaster. In this case, however, it can be stated that even the KOVS, KOVVŠ and MKPP variants have not been introduced in any army, and yet the Czech Army has reached for them and is introducing them into its armament.

If the army, or engineers as end users, would prefer a 4x4 platform (which TITUS on a 6x6 chassis does not meet), there are several Czech armoured vehicles on 4x4 chassis (Gerlach 4x4, Patriot II 4x4, MARS 4x4) with similar parameters to the Bushmaster vehicle, some of which have already been used in the armed forces of various countries. Thus, it should not be a problem for the Czech defence industry to develop the required RCP, EOD and ŽEN variants for the needs of the Czech Armed Forces.

In the current tense economic and security situation, the strategic importance of the Czech defence industry is often mentioned by the highest representatives of the Ministry of Defence or the Czech Armed Forces, but it is also clear that the Czech defence industry has its limitations and some acquisitions cannot be solved in any other way than by purchasing abroad. The question then is whether we could not be self-sufficient in the case of development and production of a universal wheeled platform for engineers thanks to the capabilities of representatives of the Czech industry.

In this context, we asked the press department of the Ministry of Defence the following: 

1) What is the advantage of the Bushmaster platform compared to other solutions, according to the Czech Armed Forces?

2) Has the Czech Armed Forces considered using the TITUS platform? 

3) How will the contract be tendered? Will it be an open competition or is the MoD going to approach the manufacturer or its representatives in the Czech Republic directly?

We have received the following response: The MoD is in the process of updating its market research, so it is not possible to anticipate benefits for the Bushmaster or any other platforms at this time. The procurement method has not yet been decided as the specification is not yet available.

 Author: Tomáš Kolařík

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