Recent defense news from Hungary suggests it is close to securing a deal with Rheinmetall for the procurement of its new HX3 mobile howitzer. Between this and the Czech adoption of the French Caesar there is significant frustration in Slovakia concerning the lack of European export success of the ZUZANA 2 mobile artillery system. ZUZANA 2 is a very capable and competitive system whose lack of export success defies its technical qualities. However, there are new opportunities emerging for the ZUZANA 2 and other Slovak defense products as a wave of political will for rearmament sweeps Europe.
ZUZANA 2 ostensibly lost to Caesar in Czech trials due to lower cost estimates (that have now increased) and supposedly the greater variety of 155mm ammunition types that Caesar is rated to fire. Caesar adoption by Czechia is questionable and sacrificed a century of Czechoslovak independence in artillery production. It is highly likely that the ZUZANA 2 can fire all 155mm shell types, could have been acquired for less cost per unit than the Caesar, is better protected, has greater accessory options, better features, and would have promoted regional defense integration. Even Czech Defense Minister Jana Černochová hints that ZUZANA 2 might have been a better choice(1). In contrast the Hungarian political decision to select the HX3 155mm is more understandable, although the apparent decision to adopt without a competition is not ideal from the perspective of ensuring free and fair procurement processes in Europe and could, if established as a trend, risk the Hungarian military being equipped with sub-optimal equipment.
However, given Hungary’s excellent relationship with Rheinmetall and the specifications of the HX3 155mm itself it is perhaps not surprising Hungary might consider a competition unnecessary. The HX3 155mm so far looks similar to ZUZANA 2 with its prototypes possessing many of the features that Caesar lacks. Where the HX3 stands out is in its future development. Reportedly, the Hungarian acquisition of the HX3 will aim at incorporating Rheinmetall’s new L60 gun, which being longer and with a larger breech can fire rounds further more economically. ZUZANA 2 and other 55 calibre artillery systems (including the HX3 with its standard gun) still have significant reach with Vulcano 155mm rounds pushing an 80km range, but the L60 can do this at a lower cost with less sophisticated ammunition types and should be able to reach further than 80km with Vulcano rounds. Where ZUZANA 2 may have an edge over the HX3 could be cost, although this is speculation due to the limited cost data available.
Exporting ZUZANA 2 is both a matter of practicality and national pride in Slovakia. Slovakia knows it has a winning system but has struggled to find its place in the European market. This is changing. Wheeled artillery is increasingly popular and is often fielded as a complement to tracked artillery vehicles. The main advantages wheeled systems have over tracked are reduced maintenance costs, maintenance needs, and faster speeds (on road). Possible opportunities for ZUZANA 2 in the European market exist in Poland, Croatia, Finland, and the Baltic states (there are many outside of Europe but this is discussed in an upcoming article). Finland in particular is an interesting case that could provide a model for advancing ZUZANA 2 sales. It has new tracked howitzers entering service being supported by older systems (the ubiquitous Gvozdika) in need of replacement. Here, Slovakia could use its own likely procurement of Finland’s Patria AMV to incentivize the Finnish government to consider procuring ZUZANA 2.
In a similar way it seems like both Hungary and Slovakia missed an opportunity to secure procurement deals for one another’s vehicles. Hungary is the partner of Rheinmetall in the current Slovak tracked IFV tender (offering the Lynx IFV). Given Slovakia’s use of government-to-government deals in its procurement projects it is possible that a deal could have been worked out where Slovakia agreed to adopt the Lynx while Hungary adopts the ZUZANA 2. Regardless of whether this would be realistic it shows that Slovakia could use its own procurement projects to further the export potential of ZUZANA 2 by promoting deals that mutually benefit the domestic industries of all parties involved.
For ZUZANA 2 to become the export success it was expected to be there needs to be a serious government backed effort to market this system in novel ways that play to Slovakia’s strengths and make use of Slovakia’s own rearmament efforts. Understanding the variety of European market options available and promoting ZUZANA 2 in a way that takes advantage of the specific circumstances of each bid is the first step.
(1)Vojáček, J. (2021, November 20). Future Minister of Defense: We should get rid of Soviet technology. iDnes.cz. https://www.idnes.cz/technet/vojenstvi/jana-cernochova-vize-armada-vyzbroj-tendr-akvizice-ministryne-obrany.A211118_163107_vojenstvi_alv
Frederick Hardman Lea – ICE Analyst