There is a need of new tanks or when will Czechia join Leopard 2 tanks users

 21. 11. 2019      category: Army of the Czech Republic

The future of tank units is a burning matter. Someone objects that instead of having some pieces in operation, the army should rather put money into another capacities. Defenders of the “steel fist” of the army object that should the tank unit be dissolved we would never manage to reinstate it. Hungary and Poland are investing into Leopards. Slovakia is already also thinking about them.  The compatibility with neighbours may be a key factor.

The Leopard 2 is the most widespread modern tank. It is implemented in armies of Germany, Austria, Canada, Chile, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Greece, Sweden, Spain, Indonesia, Portugal, Qatar, Singapore, Poland and Turkey. The mentioned Poland will buy another, recently will these tanks go into army of Hungary and perhaps also into Slovakian army.

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Picture: Leopard 2A7+ | Wikimedia Commons

Once we are literally surrounded by Leopard tanks users, is it even worth to consider competing types? And is there a point in considering types from far destinations like Far East, if just spare parts deliveries mean rather time-complicated operation with many risks at a transport route? And is there a point in considering some hybrid of tracked IFV equipped with stronger gun that is not used by anyone in NATO?

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Picture: Hungary buys the Leopard 2A7+ tanks (on the picture) | KMW

In NATO are alternatively represented legendary American M1 Abrams tanks (deployed in USA, Australia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait) to the French is serving Leclerc 2 (deployed in France and in United Arab Emirates +  created hybrid of  Leopard chassis with Leclerc turret - not implemented yet) and to the British is serving Challenger 2 (deployed in UK and in Oman) 

To give a complete picture lets add that American MBT Abrams are of the very costly operation - with regards to driving unit of turbine type, and environment-sensitive as well (Russia has also tested this type of driving and there are tanks with turbine only in the northernmost destinations, not in desert areas). 

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Picture: The American M1 Abrams main battle tank | Wikimedia Commons

In former Eastern Block states that have entered the North Atlantic Alliance are mostly deployed T-72 tanks, variously upgraded. Thus, today in Czech Republic we have two tank battalions of active reserves with T-72M1CZ and one professional battalion with T-72M4CZ that solely may be remotely compared to modern tanks.

The problem is that out of thirty such upgraded tanks there are at the moment in operation only ten in Czech army. Jokes multiply among soldiers that the only combat ready tank unit is under command of General Staff Col. Ing. Aleš Knížek, the director of Military History Institute. In contrast with those of Czech army, his tanks are operation ready, the problem is in ammunition and spare parts availability. 

In the storages are old T-72, but any return to programme of upgrade to T-72M4CZ is out of the question. This programme has financially collapsed already in time when the thirty pieces for the Czech army were upgraded instead of hundreds of tanks from the whole Eastern Bloc.  The development and maintenance program stopped making an economic sense when there was no success in selling even one such tank abroad, furthermore suppliers of some technologies ceased to exist.

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Picture: Upgraded T-72 M4CZ tanks | army.cz

The local armoury Excalibur Army (Czechoslovak group) indeed offers upgrade of original T-72 to version T-72 Scarab, but it will be more likely suitable for old versions users in the developing countries. Purchase of Russian tanks T-90M or other models out of NATO, or more precisely countries cooperating with NATO (like South Korea - ROK) is impossible, of course, namely not only because of political reasons.

As soon as Czech government decides to vary the tanks, organizing of any tendering process, like now with Infantry Fighting Vehicles would be practically superfluous. It will be sensible to address directly Germany. (Many people hoped that it will occur to Czech army to contract with German neighbours concurrently purchase of Leopard tanks, IFV Puma and PzH 2000 or AGM howitzers, but the other two mentioned weapon systems have much more competitors and tenders are necessary in the heat of anti-corruption campaign.

The question is really not “which tanks?”, but “finally when?”. In June this year the Secretary of State for defence announced that old (irreparable) components, namely radio stations, FCS etc., of all 33 pcs of T-72M4CZ will be modernized. The almost one billion Crowns worth contract should be performed by state company VOP CZ. Critics are objecting that this is mainly a way of supporting the survival of that company.

Furthermore, should new tanks be really implemented into Czech Army in 2026, the point of the mentioned modernization investment is discussed together with eventually more favourable speed-up of new tanks acquisition even in a form of leasing, like project EDA, called “European Armory” is.  Only then there should be investment into modernization of tanks for reserves, once it is clear how we want to use the tanks, what will the amount of our reserves be, what will the means of communication be etc. 

However, this is mainly a way to get some more years before even the last company that operates them today would put them out of operation. It is strange that Czech Ministry of Defence does not face the matter up and explicitly say that it will have to earmark resources from the state budget for new tanks.

 Author: Karel Podskalský