Options for the acquisition of Leopard 2 tanks within the modernisation of the Czech Army
The modernisation of the Czech Armed Forces continues. One of the important projects of the modernization of the ground forces is also the replacement of morally and physically obsolete T-72M4 CZ tanks. Several possible successors are on the table, the most likely option being the German Leopard 2 tank, used by a large number of NATO and EU member states.
The Ministry of Defence's Concept for the Construction of the Czech Armed Forces 2030 on page 13 states the following: "Ground Forces (GF) will consist of mechanized, airborne, engineer and chemical forces, artillery, logistics and intelligence forces and assets." "The mechanised forces will include tank, mechanised and motorised units." The 2030 Milestone then states on page 29 that by 2030 the only tank unit in the Army - the 73rd Tank Battalion - will be rearmed.
Tanks are an important, but quite often (due to the tender for new Infantry Fighting Vehicles) neglected component of the heavy mechanized brigade. With regard to the modernisation projects of the Czech Armed Forces in this decade, the most important ones are the aforementioned infantry fighting vehicles or the modernisation of the supersonic air force. In the current post-Covid economic situation, the question is whether sufficient funds will be allocated for the modernisation of the Czech tank troops.
If we admit the option that Czech tankers would use the German Leopard 2 tank in the future, we need to think about which version the Czech Armed Forces will be able to afford and which of these versions will still be relevant at the time of the tender announcement and completion. In the case of the A5 version, these are tanks produced at the turn of the millennium. If we consider that the contract for the supply of tanks would be signed in 2025, at that time it will be at least 20, but more likely 25 years old machines. Another problem may lie in the availability of this version.
There is also a question about the availability and price of the latest A7 version. At present, the manufacturer Kraus-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) is supplying this version to the German Bundeswehr and Hungary, and it is therefore questionable to what extent KMW will have its production capacity filled and the resulting delivery times for other interested parties. Related to this is the overall price for the newly produced Leopard 2 tanks of the latest version. It can be assumed that the Czech Republic will not become a tank superpower in the coming years, and therefore it is likely that at best dozens of tanks will be purchased, and such a quantity already seems economically very challenging at this time.
However, the Czech Republic or the Army of the Czech Republic has a relatively positive experience with the lease of military equipment. In the transition to Western technology within the Czech Air Force, for example, the cooperation with Sweden in the lease of JAS-39 Gripen supersonic aircraft has proved successful. So why not consider a similar form of cooperation in the transition to Western equipment for the Ground Forces?
Five years ago, the European Defence Agency (EDA) launched a programme - Optimisation of the Main Battle Tank Capability in Europe with initial focus on Leopard 2 (OMBT-Leo2). The main objective of this project is to optimise the number of tanks in European armies and to modernise surplus tanks in one army and offer them to another army of a member state interested in modernising its tank force. Another objective of the programme is to unify the platforms in European armies, targeting in particular those countries that want to get rid of Russian/Soviet equipment and switch to Western equipment.
In principle, the aim is to assemble Leopard 2 tanks, mainly 2A4 and 2A5 versions, then upgrade these machines through Kraus-Maffei Wegmann to A7 version and offer the upgraded tanks to interested European countries. Interested parties can lease the tanks (including training, servicing and logistics services) and, if they wish, can subsequently buy them. Interested parties have the option to further upgrade their Leopard 2A7 tanks at their own expense. The programme also covers service, engineer and bridge versions of the tank.
So far, four countries are involved in the above project - Spain (where in the past years the representatives of the Czech Armed Forces have been for the possible purchase of replacement Leopard 2A4 tanks), Greece, Cyprus and Romania. There is an agreement between these countries on the possibility of upgrading approximately 200 Leopard tanks of different versions and, according to the project, they will be upgraded to the A7 version.
The advantage of the Czech Republic's involvement in this project would be the fact that by renting and possibly buying the tank, the Czech Army would become a member of an informal association called LeoBen (Leopard-benutzende Staaten) - an association of Leopard 2 tank users. Of course, training and service capabilities are also shared. Membership also has the advantage of the fact that the association includes countries with different climatic conditions, which ensures that experience of operating in different climatic conditions is taken into account for subsequent modernisation.
In the case of the Czech Republic, the question is how the project itself would look in practice in Czech conditions. One of the options could be an initial lease of 20-30 tanks to maintain capabilities and transition to Western technology. The Czech Republic could buy these tanks at the end of the lease, then assess its financial capabilities and possibly increase the number of tanks by another lease.
As with the vast majority of contracts for the Czech Armed Forces, the participation of the Czech defence industry will be important. Although a large participation of Czech companies cannot be expected in the case of tanks upgraded directly by the manufacturer, an opportunity for Czech companies can be found in servicing and training services and other possible upgrades, which, as mentioned in the article, each state carries out at its own expense.