Possibilities of cooperation in the development of Unmanned Ground Vehicles
Although the Czech Army is currently working on modernization and armament projects related to "conventional" weapons such as air defense systems, tracked IFV or new wheeled howitzers, the future and modernization of the Czech Army towards drones and Unmanned Ground Vehicles cannot be forgotten. The Czech Republic itself is developing such a vehicle and, within the framework of ongoing and future tenders, may establish cooperation, which may also lead to joint development in the field of UGV - unmanned ground vehicles.
The Czech Army is already developing such a vehicle and has included its prototype in the equipment of the 102nd Reconnaissance Battalion. It is the UGV-Pz vehicle developed at the Military Technical Institute. In the configuration as delivered to the Czech Army, this vehicle is intended for reconnaissance. It carries a wide range of electro-optical sensors. In the future, the installation of electronic warfare systems can be considered. No further information is known regarding the deployment of weapon systems.
German Rheinmetall, one of the bidders for the tracked IFV tender, is also developing its Unmanned Ground Vehicle, which is called Mission Master. It is a multifunctional vehicle designed for example for CBRN missions, reconnaissance, search or as a communication node. It can also be used to transport cargo. In the future, its installation with weapon systems cannot be ruled out.
Picture: In 2019, Rheinmetall's Canadian division tested a Mission Master robotic vehicle armed with a pair of missile containers for a total of fourteen Thales 70 mm missiles. | Rheinmetall Canada / CC BY-NC-ND
In addition to being one of the potential suppliers of new tracked IFVs, Rheinmetall is also involved in the production of the Leopard 2 tank, which can be considered as a possible replacement for the obsolete T-72M4 CZ tanks. Recently, the British Army also ordered another four pieces of Rheinmetall's vehicle. This gives room for further development, from which the Czech Republic could benefit thanks to its geographical proximity. Let us remind you that Rheinmetal signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Czech holding CSG, which includes, among other things, the construction of a joint venture in Kopřivnice. In the event of winning the tender for tracked IFV, Rheinmetall also offers the construction of a test center in the Ústí nad Labem Region.
Korean Hanwha Defense company recently announced the completion of the development of a 6x6 Unmanned Ground Vehicle. Like the Mission Master vehicle mentioned above, the Korean vehicle is designed primarily for reconnaissance, but Hanwha Defense also counts on the integration of weapon systems. The Korean K2 Black Panther tank, together with the above-mentioned Leopard 2, is the main candidate in the tender for a new tank for the Czech Army.
In addition, the Republic of Korea can become a strategic partner of the Czech Republic in ensuring energy security. The Korean company KHNP remains one of the three bidders for this contract after the exclusion of China and Russia from the tender for the completion of the power plant in Dukovany. Cooperation between the Czech Republic and South Korea can thus extend to other industries. Long-term cooperation with the South Korean government also offers a geopolitical advantage. South Korea is not a great power and has very good relations with the Czech Republic in the diplomatic but also in the economic field. Therefore, cooperation would not have to be perceived as controversial.
A separate chapter is the Czech-Israeli cooperation. Above-standard allied relations, common history and rich cooperation in various areas have long connected the Czech Republic with Israel, which is one of the world's leaders in the development of autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles (both civilian and military). Israeli companies are developing both Jaguar and Guardian unmanned vehicles for patrolling the border with the Gaza Strip and a new combat vehicle under the Carmel program.
However, Israel is also achieving very good results in the development of other autonomous systems and devices with elements of artificial intelligence. Negotiations are currently underway regarding the supply of SPYDER anti-aircraft systems for the Czech Armed Forces, which the Czech Ministry of Defense could use to start negotiations on future wider cooperation in the field of Unmanned Ground Vehicles.
Another interesting option, which is not related to ongoing or future tenders, is the cooperation with the Estonian Milrem Robotics company. It recently presented the result of its collaboration with Marduk Technologies - an Unmanned Ground Vehicle designed to fight Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.
Picture: Milrem Robotics recently unveiled the outcome of a partnership with Marduk Technologies - an Unmanned Ground Vehicle designed to fight Unmanned Aerial Vehicles | Milrem Robotics / CC BY-NC-ND
This vehicle is partially autonomous, highly mobile and is equipped with kinetic and non-kinetic means of action - jammer and laser. The main advantage of cooperation with Estonia is the local experience with the development of Unmanned Ground Vehicles. As in the case of South Korea, the Estonian path of cooperation is advantageous for the Czech Republic in that it does not mean a geopolitical attachment to any power or power, and from this point of view it is not controversial cooperation. While for example, in the case of the purchase of American helicopters, words about buying the favor of the United States were heard on the political scene.
The aim of this article is to draw attention to the fact that current military tenders provide an opportunity to establish long-term cooperation not only in specific cases of weapon systems, but also in the case of cooperation in the development of advanced (not only) weapon systems. If the Czech Republic does not only want to maintain the Czech Army's capabilities, but also wants to develop them, it must look to the future, which consists, among other things, of Unmanned Ground Vehicles.