Slovak armour for the 21st century

Fred briefly wrote about the favorites in the historically largest tender on the Slovak defense, which can reach up to 2 billion euros.

Slovakia needs a new tracked Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) to supplement, and eventually replace, the BVP and the more capable BVP 2 vehicles currently in service. IFVs are armoured personnel carriers that are designed to both bring troops to the battlefield and to fight in support of them. The Cold War origins of the BVP mean that while it remains a capable platform, its survivability and lethality on the modern battlefield are slowly decreasing. By replacing the BVP and BVP 2, Slovakia will also have an opportunity to increase its military compatibility with NATO. Slovakia will be looking for a well protected, mobile, and well armed IFV that is sufficiently advanced to justify the expenditure. It is also a likely demand, and always a welcome feature, that a future IFV has some of its parts produced domestically.

The Slovak Ministry of Defence (MoD) is expecting eight proposals from different companies to meet this tender. However, with the political decision to keep Korean and Turkish companies out of the competition, we expect that there are only four IFVs that are likely to meet Slovak expectations: Rheinmetall’s Lynx, General Dynamics’ ASCOD, BAE’s CV90, and Projekt System & Management GmbH’s (PSM) Puma.

These vehicles are all highly capable platforms. They are all built around modularity to allow for increased flexibility in the types of missions they can perform. There are pros and cons to each choice, and through a brief analysis we can see that of the four options there are two that stand out as candidates for a Slovak tracked IFV.

1) The Puma is an excellent IFV designed for the German Bundeswehr. It is the best choice for the German military, but perhaps not for Slovakia. The Puma has been designed with input from many German companies. This makes adapting the Puma to Slovak needs more difficult as there are many vendors that need consulting. This lack of design flexibility is reportedly the reason that the Puma dropped out of the Czech IFV competition. When the Czechs changed the parameters of the competition, PSM decided that it was not worthwhile to redesign their vehicle to continue. This, in combination with a probable high initial and lifetime (for example in spare parts) costs, makes the Puma an unlikely choice for a future Slovak IFV.

2) General Dynamics’ ASCOD is an advanced and highly adaptable IFV design that has been adopted in different forms by several militaries. This adaptability may be the biggest attraction for Slovakia. With the need to steadily replace non-NATO standard equipment, the ASCOD could provide a common chassis for projects beyond an IFV. For example, a SAM version of the ASCOD could be used to replace the obsolescent “Kub” systems currently in service. The commonality of parts between IFV and SHORAD systems would provide a simplified logistics chain. However, there have been recent quality control issues with the UK version of ASCOD (UK designation AJAX), which may have damaged the reputation of the ASCOD. Yet, the ASCOD has proven to be a success in its Ulan form in neighbouring Austria. This suggests that the ASCOD could be a suitable choice of IFV for Slovakia.

This leaves the two standout options for Slovakia, the CV90 and Lynx.

3) The CV90 is an excellent and proven design. It has been heavily customized for a variety of customer demands and can easily be configured for Slovak needs. As should be expected of a vehicle with Swedish origin, it has outstanding mobility in winter conditions. A Slovak partner for the CV90 should be easy to find. The unique selling point of the CV-90, when compared to the other vehicles on this list, is its exemplary combat and service history. It has active combat in Afghanistan with Norway and Denmark, proving itself to be a highly effective IFV. Its service with seven different countries means that lifetime cost data are readily available, which unlike for the Lynx means that total project costs are easier to predict.

4) The Lynx is a very well protected modern IFV made by Rheinmetall. Much like the ASCOD it can be configured in many different ways. Some technology that went into the design of the Puma has been incorporated into the Lynx. However, unlike the consortium behind the sale of the Puma, Rheinmetall has shown impressive flexibility in working with potential operators. Rheinmetall has advertised the Lynx as a cost-effective platform that can be easily updated to meet the demands of the modern battlefield. This can be seen in its ability to use the AMAP-ADS active protection system. However, the cost effectiveness of the Lynx is hard to determine due its limited service thus far. The recent selection of the Lynx by Hungary included some elements of domestic production (former state owned company in Moldava), which could be an incentive for its purchase by Slovakia if a similar deal could be reached. However, it is worth considering that the selection of a new IFV is also a political process as much as it is a practical one. This is born out by the exclusion of Israel, Turkey, and Korea from the IFV tender. The tensions between the Hungarian government and the European Union may make the Slovak government reticent about following the Hungarian lead in selecting the Lynx.

For now, determining the likely Slovak IFV remains speculative. Any of the mentioned vehicles could be viable options for Slovakia and would represent a significant improvement over the BVP platforms currently in use. The choice of IFV will likely be determined by issues beyond simple capability, with domestic partnerships and chassis use in other projects being key considerations.

Frederick Hardman Lea – ICE Analyst