The ground forces of the Czech Republic are armed with armored vehicles of various types, incl. main battle tanks. At the same time, the quantitative and qualitative indicators of the tank fleet leave much to be desired. There are only a few dozen MBTs in the ranks of relatively old models that need modernization or replacement.
In the past, the tank troops of Czechoslovakia and the independent Czech Republic were among the largest in Eastern Europe, but in the nineties and two thousand years the situation changed dramatically. For reasons of economy, the country’s leadership constantly reduced tank and other units, which led to very interesting consequences.
Currently, MBT are in service only in the 7th mechanized brigade of the ground forces. All of them are listed in the 73rd tank battalion based in N of the item. Prasslavitsa. The battalion includes three companies on two types of vehicles. Also in the 7th mechanized brigade there are several battalions of motorized infantry and support units.
In service there are two types of MBT. One of the companies of the 73rd battalion operates modernized T-72M4 CZ tanks in the amount of 30 units. The other two include older vehicles of the T-72M1 modification. According to open data, there are 89 such tanks.
One of 30 T-72M4 CZ
The status of the T-72M1 tanks is not completely clear. Thus, the battalion’s official website and The Military Balance reference book point to the withdrawal of all such vehicles to the reserve, keeping only the M4 CZ in the ranks. However, in the latest news about the problems of armored units, two companies on the old M1s were mentioned as active and in need of updating.
One way or another, the tank fleet of the Czech army is small in size – no less than 30 and no more than 119 armored vehicles. All of them belong to fairly old projects with limited potential and belong to the same battalion. The practical value of such “troops” is questionable.
From license to abbreviations
Currently, the Czech tank fleet is facing a number of serious problems that limit both its current capabilities and further development. One of the main prerequisites for this is the great age of the equipment – it complicates routine operation and repairs or upgrades.
In 1977, Czechoslovakia received the necessary documentation from the USSR and launched licensed production of the T-72M MBT. Later they mastered the newer T-72M1 with reinforced frontal projection armor. The release of such equipment continued until 1991, in 14 years they managed to assemble 815 tanks. After the collapse of the country, most of the armored vehicles went to the Czech Republic.
In recent decades, various reductions have been carried out, as a result of which the number of tank units has decreased significantly. First of all, they were withdrawn to the reserve, sold abroad or scrapped machines of older releases and modifications. Thanks to this, from a certain time, only relatively new T-72M1s remained in the Czech army.
In the nineties, the Vojensky opravarensky podnik 025 (now VOP CZ) tank repair plant, together with foreign enterprises, developed a project for the modernization of the T-72M4 CZ. The upgraded tank received a new power plant, Czech-made DYNA-72 reactive armor, the Italian TURMS-T fire control system, several promising shells and a number of other components. Due to this modernization, it was possible to increase the technical, combat and operational characteristics.
During the development of the T-72M4 CZ project, it was supposed to modernize 300-350 T-72M1 tanks from the availability. Construction of equipment from scratch was not planned and was not possible. In the future, plans were seriously reduced. Financial constraints only allowed 30 cars to be upgraded. Corresponding events took place in 2003-2008. Since then, the T-72M4 CZ are the newest, but not the most numerous MBTs in the Czech Republic.
A few months ago, the results of a full-scale inspection of the army armored vehicles fleet carried out by the military and political leadership of the country were published. The audit found that an extremely difficult situation is observed in the field of MBT, requiring the adoption of certain measures. A plan to remedy the current situation has already been proposed.
According to the audit, there are not only quantitative and qualitative problems. Difficulties are observed in ensuring proper combat readiness. So, in 2016-18. only 43% of the nominal number of tanks in the army was in active service. Thus, only fifty tanks can be involved in training or combat work at a time, incl. obsolete T-72M1.
The Department of Defense intends to continue to operate the T-72M4 CZ, but such plans face serious problems. Due to the specific composition of the equipment, such MBTs turn out to be “unique and rare”, which complicates and increases the cost of repairs and upgrades. Moreover, some of the components for them have already been discontinued, and the stock of spare parts is limited. Rebuilding some tanks by disassembling others does not make sense. This method does not solve problems in the long term, and also reduces the already small number of combat-ready vehicles.
The topic of repair and modernization of the remaining tanks has been discussed for several years, but exact plans have not yet been drawn up, and real work has not yet begun. According to optimistic estimates, the events will begin no later than 2021-22. The update of three dozen T-72M4 CZ will continue until 2025-26. How exactly these MBTs will change is unknown. In addition, the cost of the project remains open and remains controversial.
There are proposals to continue the mass operation of the T-72M1 MBT. This technique is older and worse than the newer “M4 CZ”, but has operational advantages. The T-72M1 was mass-produced in different countries and it is easier to find spare parts for it – in contrast to the “unique” machines of the next project.
Save or buy
Now the Ministry of Defense and other structures are making plans to modernize the tank fleet for the next 5-10 years. In the short and medium term, it is proposed to keep the existing equipment in service, possibly with a certain reduction in its number. At the same time, 30 newer T-72M4 CZs and dozens of older T-72M1s may remain. They will be in operation until the end of the decade.
No later than 2025, it is expected to start deliveries of new tanks to replace obsolete ones. What equipment the Czech Republic will acquire is unknown. Several years ago, Czech specialists traveled to Spain, where they got acquainted with the Leopard 2A4 MBT. At that time, the Spanish army was looking for buyers for 53 decommissioned tanks. It was reported about the possible appearance of a Czech-Spanish agreement, but it was never signed.
Present and future
Thus, at present, the tank fleet of the Czech army is in poor condition and cannot boast of successes of a quantitative, qualitative, combat and operational nature. The armament formally consists of approx. 120 MBT of two modifications, but no more than half are suitable for real use.
As the service continues, all tanks are faced with problems of repair and modernization, and in the future they will need to be replaced. All these activities require money, but the financial capabilities of the army are limited, which leads to long-term disputes – and therefore there is no clear plan for the development of tank forces yet. How soon it will be drawn up, and whether it will be possible to complete it within a reasonable timeframe with acceptable costs, time will tell.