The Czech government has selected a bid involving eight UH-1Y Venom multirole helicopters and four AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters as a long-term replacement for the Army of the Czech Republic’s remaining legacy fleet of Russian-sourced Mi-24s and Mi-35s. These had been slated for retirement in 2017 and 2018 but instead remain in service.
The downselection of the two helicopter types was announced on August 22 by Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Defense Minister Lubomir Metnar during a visit to the 22nd Helicopter Base at Sedlec. Prime Minister Babis noted that the government would like to expedite the contract process in order for deliveries to begin in 2023. Also noted was the value of the contract – CZK14.5 billion ($623 million).
Bell is proud to acknowledge Czech Republic Defence Minister Lubomir Metnar’s statement of intent to acquire a mixed fleet of eight UH-1Y and four AH-1Z helicopters. pic.twitter.com/CjYXSD6hBZ
— Bell (@BellFlight) August 23, 2019
The replacement of the Russian helicopters is part of an ongoing Czech military modernization process involving the phase-out of legacy Soviet and Warsaw Pact materiel in favor of more modern, non-Russian alternatives that improve interoperability with NATO allies. The Mi-24/35 replacement effort forms one of the cornerstones of the Czech Defense Ministry’s Concept 2025 and Long-Term Outlook for 2030 plans.
The replacement process itself sputtered a bit when in 2017 the Czech side failed to move forward after weighing bids from Bell Helicopter (offering its UH-1Y Venom), Lockheed Martin-Sikorsky (offering up the UH-60 Black Hawk), Airbus Helicopters (H145M), and Leonardo (AW139). A government-to-government Foreign Military Sales (FMS) request by Prague for a dozen UH-1Ys was approved by the U.S. State Department and announced to Congress on October 11, 2017.
While reports at the time indicated that the Bell offering was the favored contender (and that the ACR and Defense Ministry had both recommended its selection), the parliamentary elections in October 2017 and a change in government put a wrench in a final decision.
Incoming Defense Minister Karla Slechtova announced on January 23, 2018, that the planned procurement would be delayed due to a lack of progress in the selection process and purportedly inaccurate reports pertaining to the original tendering process. Thus this entire initiative went back to the drawing board.
The Czech government then rebooted the process, with FMS requests sent to Washington regarding possible procurement of 12 UH-60M Black Hawks and four AH-1Z/UH-1Y Vipers . Both requests were approved by the State Department, with notification to Congress sent back on May 3.
Now with the selection made, a contract may be finalized with the aim of absorbing the new platforms into service by the middle of the next decade. Both Bell helicopter types will fill multiple roles, including close-in fire support, troop transport, and medevac, among others.