Prague - Russia´s possible decision to stop its supplies of Mi-171 helicopter spare parts to Prague in reaction to the EU´s sanctions could paralyse the Czech military, in which 16 Mi-171s are the indispensable core of its helicopter fleet, daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) writes today.
23. základna vrtulníkového letectva v Přerově se 24. září rozloučila s posledními devíti dopravními vrtulníky Mi - 171Š. Stroje přeletěly na 22. základnu letectva v Náměšti nad Oslavou. Změny v letectvu Armády ČR zahrnují sloučení 23. základny vrtulníkového letectva s 22. základnou letectva. Od 1. prosince vznikne 22. základna vrtulníkového letectva v Náměšti nad Oslavou. ČTK Peřina Luděk
Without the Russian supplies, the Czech Mi-171s would keep in operation for a mere six months before the first of them having to be discarded, the paper writes, citing an analysis the Defence Ministry has had worked out.
Czech soldiers praise the Mi-171s as machines that can operate even in adverse weather and that are easy to maintain. Their only "flaw" is that their operation depends on spare parts supplies from Russia, HN writes.
"Although the fresh EU sanctions will not affect us directly, Russia might react by imposing an embargo of its own. This would cause a serious problem to us," the Defence Ministry´s state secretary Daniel Kostoval told the paper.
The Czech military has about 50 Russian-made helicopters, including the Mi-24 combat choppers and the above mentioned Mi-171s.
If Russia halted its supplies, the step would fully hit the Czechs in three to six months. The military has prepared emergency scenarios to cope with the gap, Kostoval said.
To fulfil urgent tasks, the military needs 12 helicopters at least. A short-time solution would be "cannibalisation," or taking parts from one helicopter and their planting in another one.
"This would prolong some helicopters´ lifespan by several months," Kostoval said.
In the meantime, the military would have to seek Western-made helicopters to replace the Mi-171s with.
"We could either buy brand-new helicopters or gain redundant ones from some of the allied countries," Kostoval is quoted as saying.
The new helicopters would cost up to $20 million apiece. Such a sum could not be found in the military´s budget. An extra investment would have to be approved by the cabinet, he said.
More probably, the military would buy second-hand helicopters that are still capable of operation, from countries such as Germany or the USA.
"Mainly in the USA, they are discarding a number of helicopters of various types now," Kostoval said.
Another alternative is a lease contract, he said.
"It is rather unusual to lease helicopters. Nevertheless, our experience with [the lease of the Swedish Gripen] fighters has proved very effective," Kostoval added.
Irrespective of the present tense relations with Russia, the Czech military plans to replace a part of its Russian-made choppers. After 2016, it wants to replace the combat Mi-24s with a Western-made multipurpose helicopter type, HN writes.
As far as transport helicopters are concerned, the Czechs still count on Russian products in the future.
"If the international situation enables it, we count mainly on the Mi-171 transport helicopters in the future. First, the lifespan [of the ones we have] expires only after 15 to 20 years. Second, it is a machine that surpasses even the U.S.-made BlackHawk in many respects," Kostoval said.