One of the main factors determining the high combat effectiveness of NATO as a military organization is the existence of uniform standards for weapons, equipment, communications, command and control, etc. When joining the Alliance, a country must reform and re-equip its army so that it can effectively interact with its allies. However, such processes are faced with known problems, and a lot of NATO member states are forced to use the material part of other standards.
Lack of uniformity
The problem of incompatibility of the material part appeared and became relevant at the turn of the nineties and two thousandths. Then the so-called. 4th enlargement of NATO, during which the countries of the former socialist bloc and the Warsaw Pact Organization were admitted to the organization for the first time. Subsequently, there were four more expansions, as a result of which a number of other Eastern European and Balkan countries entered the Alliance. As a result, by now all the members of the ATS, as well as the republics of the former Yugoslavia and the USSR, have entered NATO.
The former T-72 of the GDR army as a target is another radical way to solve the problem of incompatible technology. Photo Wikimedia Commons
Leaving the former alliances and joining NATO, these states retained armies built according to Soviet standards and equipped with appropriate equipment. In preparation for entering the Alliance, armies underwent partial modernization, but such processes usually affected the contours of management, charters, etc. The renewal of the material part was limited and stretched over time.
A significant part of the new members have already managed to re-equip the infantry in accordance with NATO standards. However, in other areas, the situation was more difficult. Most of these countries are still forced to operate Soviet or licensed armored vehicles, in fact, without being able to replace them. All this creates a host of organizational and operational problems, and also imposes restrictions on the combat capability of the army.
Consider the situation with the mismatch of materiel using examples of armored combat vehicles – tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. In the last decades of its existence, the USSR actively helped future NATO members by supplying BMP-1/2, T-72, etc. A significant part of such equipment is still in service with no real prospects for replacement.
Army of Bulgaria on exercises along the NATO line. NATO technology is combined with Soviet machine guns and machine guns. US Army Photos
According to The Military Balance 2020, Poland remains the largest operator of Soviet tanks. In line units there are up to 130 T-72A and T-72M1 tanks. More than 250 were transferred to storage. A smaller fleet is retained by the Bulgarian army – 90 MBT versions of the T-72M1 / M2. Hungary continues to operate 44 MBTs of the T-72M1 type. North Macedonia operates 31 T-72A tanks. The Czech ground forces have kept 30 modernized T-72M4 CZ in service, and up to 90 more vehicles are in storage. Slovakia uses up to 30 T-72M.
As in the case of the MBT, Poland has the largest BMP-1 fleet in NATO – more than 1,250 units. Almost 190 machines of this type serve in Greece. OK. 150 BMP-1 and more than 90 BMP-2 were kept by Slovakia. The Czech Republic uses 120 BMP-2 and approx. 100 BMP-1, not counting dozens of vehicles in storage. The Bulgarian army has 90 older BMP-1s, while North Macedonia was able to obtain and retain 10-11 BMP-2s.
Tankers of Bulgaria and the United States on joint exercises, 2005. Photo by US Army
Over time, the overall situation has not changed. Most of the operators are forced to keep the old Soviet equipment in service and are unable to change it with modern models that meet NATO standards. The only exception to this is Poland, which managed to purchase a large number of German Leopard 2 tanks and even bring them to the first place in its army.
It should be noted that similar trends are observed not only in the field of armored vehicles. Combat aircraft and transport helicopters, artillery systems, etc. remain in service with the new NATO members. Soviet or licensed production.
Continuing to operate old weapons and equipment, new NATO members face serious problems. First of all, it is incomplete compatibility with the materiel of foreign partners. For example, the guns of tanks and infantry fighting vehicles of Soviet and NATO production use different ammunition, and unification is fundamentally impossible. Different standards make it difficult to organize communication within the division and with higher levels.
Polish tank crews and their T-72. Photo of the Ministry of Defense of Poland
Soviet-made equipment and weapons are of considerable age and need regular maintenance and refurbishment. Some NATO countries have the necessary production capacities, as well as have a stock of units, which so far allows such work to be carried out and to maintain an acceptable state of technology. This is facilitated to some extent by the limited size of the vehicle fleet.
However, such stocks are not endless. As they are used, armies have to look for suppliers of the necessary products. A wide range of products can only be purchased from Russia, which is a potential threat to the army and national security. Other countries can act as suppliers, but this does not solve all the problems and is often associated with difficulties.
Attempts to solve
NATO countries cannot put up with the existing problems in the field of materiel and are trying to take certain measures. Some of them, not having the necessary funds, simply got rid of samples of old standards, are selling them right now or are planning such measures.
Upgraded T-72M4 CZ of the Czech Army. Photo of the Ministry of Defense of the Czech Republic
In other countries, equipment is being modernized. For example, Poland, the Czech Republic and some other countries have previously proposed several projects for updating the T-72 MBT with the replacement of communications, fire control, etc. This made it possible to extend the service life, to include the equipment in the standard control loops of the Alliance, and also to slightly improve the fighting qualities. In theory, such projects can be brought to the international market, helping new allies at a reasonable price.
A good way out of this situation is the radical replacement of old samples with new ones. This rearmament has been successful in the area of small arms, but there are serious difficulties in other areas. So, only a few NATO countries can produce and sell tanks, and their products are not cheap. In addition, one should not forget about the internal NATO “customs” and the influence of political processes. As a result, small and poor countries cannot count on modern imported samples.
Upgraded BMP-1 of the Slovak Army. Photo Wikimedia Commons
The United States, being the largest, richest and most influential NATO country, sees the problems of its allies and, according to the old tradition, is forced to help them. In 2018, the European Recapitalization Incentive Program (ERIP) was adopted. Its purpose is financial and other assistance to the Alliance countries in order to accelerate their rearmament and abandon Soviet models in favor of American industrial products.
To date, there are less than a dozen European NATO members participating in ERIP. Together with the United States, these countries draw up a procurement plan, defining the types and quantities of equipment ordered. Then the American side pays for a part of the new order and provides other benefits. As reported last year, having invested approx. $ 300 million, the United States provided its industry with orders for $ 2.5 billion.
Self-propelled anti-aircraft gun based on the BMP-1 of the Greek army. Photo Wikimedia Commons
It is curious that the ERIP program has not yet led to a radical change in the situation. The number of its participants is still not very large, and the volumes and structure of orders leave much to be desired. The reasons for this are simple: while receiving American aid, the country must still invest in its rearmament.
An obvious future
New NATO member states are trying to update their armed forces and bring them in line with the requirements. However, they face financial difficulties that seriously limit the pace and results of rearmament. Aid from the more developed countries of the Alliance has an impact on this situation, but cannot provide a fundamental turning point.
Apparently, the observed situation will not change in the foreseeable future. The armament of the NATO countries will remain Soviet-made samples, in the original or modernized configuration. This will lead to the persistence of the current problems and challenges, which will continue to have a negative impact on the combat capability of individual countries and NATO as a whole. One can expect some small positive processes, but dramatic changes are not expected.