The Czech CAESARs will be on a Czech chassis, with a Czech cabin and should fire Czech ammunition
The Ministry of Defense will verify the offer price of 52 self-propelled CAESAR howitzers from the French state-owned company Nexter through an expert opinion, and from the point of view of modernizing the Czech Army, one of the key contracts will hopefully be successfully completed. From the beginning of this acquisition project, it was certain that the new equipment would be built on proven chassis from the Tatra Trucks Kopřivnice company. As part of the involvement of domestic industry and achieving the required 40% Czech participation in the contract, armored cabins from Tatra Defense Vehicle are also planned. And at the last minute, there are also complicated negotiations on the production and supply of ammunition - Nexter has an ammunition production division and has obviously expected the Czech Army to buy grenades in France from the beginning. However, the Czech defense industry can produce modern artillery ammunition.
The purchase of CAESAR howitzers was supposed to be practically finished by the end of 2020. The speed of the process was promised mainly by the chosen method of acquisition - by directly adressing the manufacturer, French state-owned Nexter, without the usual tender, which has its advantages but can be slow, as we can see in the case of the tracked IFVs. However, we would not be in the Czech Republic to avoid complications even in the case of self-propelled guns.
The French company came up with a price offer, which surprised the Czech Ministry of Defense. From the originally expected six billion crowns, we will probably get over the amount of ten billion. The official explanation for the higher price offer was, among other things, that Nexter also priced some elements that the Army of the Czech Republic did not require. More significant is the clear increase in the prices of various inputs, which in 2021 after the covid and other turbulence simply can not correspond to the level of 2019 or even older. But the complicated and not very accentuated issue of the production and supply of modern 155mm ammunition probably also plays a role. At the same time, the transition to a uniform caliber deployed by artillery of our allies within the Alliance was one of the main reasons why the Czech Army decided not on an otherwise interesting and promising project to modernize the existing DANA cannon howitzers, but to rearm for a brand new weapon.
The increase in the purchase price of CAESAR guns may very well reflect the fact that Nexter originally anticipated that its Nexter Munitions division would supply grenades to the Czech Army. It would be too late to cry over spilled milk, that in the overall volume, the extremely important part of the whole project was probably not clearly communicated and described to the French partners in time, and in the end it is good that the problem has been raised and that negotiations are taking place in a direction that will benefit the Czech defense industry, and therefore, most importantly, the Army of the Czech Republic. The increase in the purchase price looks dramatic at first glance, but on the one hand it will be spread over several years, on the other hand we would risk higher operating costs and a security problem in the future, which definitely exceed the value of several billion crowns.
Needless to say, not only has the pandemic shown the importance of domestic industry self-sufficiency; and it would be unfortunate if, in this case, the Czech artillery were to become dependent on one foreign manufacturer for the supply of ammunition. And it would actually be indefensible. If we move from 152 mm caliber, for which the Army has large stockpiles of ammunition, to a common alliance standard of 155 mm, we certainly do not do so because we have to use the services of a single supplier. We want interoperability and compatibility.
Nexter has an ammunition certification lever in his hand. From a general point of view, the logical requirement for safety, reliability and warranty - but on the other hand the risk to be avoided, the so-called vendor lock-in, the emergence of dependence on a supplier who sets such technical and user conditions that only his product can meet, whether it is print cartridges for printers or 155mm ammunition with a range of 30 or up to 40 km. It is possible to understand the French interest that ammunition produced in the Czech Republic does not become a direct competitor of French ammunition on the world market. In addition to France, CAESAR cannons also have armies from Indonesia, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Denmark and, in the near future, Morocco. However, the Czech interest must prevail.
Members of the Defense Committee have repeatedly categorically stated that ammunition for Czech guns must be Czech, and ideally fully certified when introducing guns into service, in order for the Czech Army to avoid unnecessary costs with the transition from French to Czech ammunition. The Ministry of Defense believes that the contract with the French supplier will be concluded by the end of the year.