Eight H-1 helicopters are to be donated free-of-charge to the Czech Republic by the US.
The donation was confirmed on August 19 by Defense Minister Jana Černochová during a visit to the 24th Air Transport Base at Praha-Kbely on August 19. They will comprise an additional six AH-1Z Viper and two UH-1Y Venom helicopters, adding to the four AH-1Zs and eight UH-1Ys already on order. This will bring the total number to be delivered to the Czech Republic to ten of each type. They will replace the outdated Mi-24V/35 Hind fleet from 2023.
The minister agreed on the delivery of the eight additional helicopters during her visit to Washington in April. These will be helicopters that have already been in use in the US and are fully operational. The Minister said: “It will be a donation, we will only pay the price of repairs, reconstruction according to our requirements, transport to the Czech Republic and other related costs. At the moment, it is not possible to quantify them exactly, but compared to the price of new helicopters, these are incomparable amounts.”
She had announced repeatedly in the past few months that the originally agreed 12 helicopters were not enough. According to her earlier statement, the war in Ukraine clearly showed that air support is necessary in a conventional conflict and not just NATO compatibility. The Czech Air Force currently has eight Mi-35/24V combat helicopters which have been in service since 2003.
Brig Gen Petr Čepelka, director of the Ministry of Defense's Forces Development Section, said: “The Mi-24 helicopters which are being phased out can, if necessary, be used as a source of spare parts for the Mi-171Š machines, or they can also be offered for sale.”
According to Col Miroslav Šajban, head of the section's helicopter and transport aviation department, by switching to new technology, the army will acquire modern machines for the 21st century and at the same time reduce its dependence on Russia. “Also, the fact that we will receive two different types of machines - one multi-purpose (UH-1Y Venom) that can be used to transport small groups and at the same time can act against ground targets is also important. The AH-1Z Viper type is then expected to operate in combat operations.”
With the new US helicopters, the Czech Army will also receive appropriate equipment: specifically guided Hellfire air-to-ground missiles and Sidewinder missiles for air-to-air operations. In the US, two groups of pilots and technicians from Náměště nad Oslavou began retraining on the new types of helicopters from July. Bell's mobile training team will train local personnel in the Czech Republic for a period of two years before they fully master the helicopter operation and maintenance system.
The Czech defence industry, including the state-owned enterprises LOM Praha and VTÚ, as well as the companies Ray Service, Aero Vodochody and VR Group, will participate in the order with more than a third share. LOM Praha will provide life cycle support for helicopters, which will take place at the new H-1 plant. A simulation centre will be established in Náměšt nad Oslavou for the training of ground and flying personnel on the new helicopters. The original intergovernmental agreement for the purchase of eight UH-1Y Venom multi-purpose helicopters and four AH-1Z Viper combat helicopters was signed on December 12, 2019, by the then defence ministers of the Czech Republic and the US, Lubomír Metnar and Mark Esper.