Hungary on pace to become one of the region’s most modern armies: minister

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Due to the record equipment purchases of last year, the Hungarian Armed Forces is on its way to becoming one of the region’s most modern armies by the middle of the decade, Defense Minister Tibor Benkő said. Based on the developments announced so far, the Ministry of Defense will spend 25 billion forints on small arms, 125 billion on helicopters, 525 billion on tanks and self-propelled howitzers and 700 billion forints on air defense systems, bringing the total to 1,375 billion forints or €3.83 billion at current exchange rates. It is important to note that the ratio of Hungary’s defense expenditures to GDP was only 1.12 percent in 2009, which dropped to a low of 0.86 in 2014. In practice, this meant that the country did not meet even half of its 2 percent commitment to NATO. The goals of the Zrínyi 2026 program, launched in 2017, included not only achieving the expected level of defense-to-GDP spending, but also closing the decades-long gap.

While in the past, since 1990, there has been virtually no substantial development beyond the acquisition of the Gripen fighters and the Mistral missile systems, in the last two years almost every quarter brought new announcements of the development of the military. Csaba Krizsan/MTI via AP Guests surround one of the new tanks during the ceremonial handover of the first four Leopard 2A4HU tanks to the Hungarian army at an army barracks in Tata, Hungary, Friday, July 24, 2020. From September till the end of this year two Leopard tanks produced by the German firm Krauss-Maffei Wegmann will be delivered to the Hungarian defense Forces every month as Hungary buys 12 tanks of this type to replace Soviet made T72 tanks. With regard to the Gripen aircraft, it is worth noting that left-liberal governments from 2002 to 2010 did not systematize any weapons other than self-defense and air policing missiles for modern combat aircraft, while undoubtedly the new short-range Mistrals themselves also made little contribution to the protection of the country.

Looking at recent events, in 2018, development for the Air Force began, with the acquisition of eight Zlin-type training aircraft. The next step was the purchase of small and medium-sized military transport aircraft — two of the latter categories were Airbus A319 and Falcon aircraft. The Airbuses have since also been prepared to perform air rescue missions. This was followed by the development of Hungary’s ground force,s with the country ordering two types of tanks. One package contains 12 Leopard 2A4s that have already arrived in Tata in several installments. These are not new, but refurbished, upgraded devices designed to enable the crew to move from Eastern technology to Western until the 2023-2025 arrival of the world-leading Leopard 2A7 systems. In addition, Hungary has purchased hand-held anti-tank equipment and signed contracts for the PZH-2000 self-propelled guns, anti-aircraft missile systems, anti-aircraft missiles, and the renewal of Gripen software. Very few old vehicles and technology of Soviet origin remain in the Hungarian system, but the few that do, such as the Mi-24 and Mi-17 helicopters, have also been completely refurbished in recent years. They will definitely remain a part of the armed forces until these can also be replaced. Sixteen H145M utility helicopters have landed at the Szolnok air base so far, and the larger H225s will arrive soon. Although the obsolete Soviet-made AN-26 transport plane has also been removed from the system this year, Hungary will purchase two KC-390 jet airfield transport aircraft to replace it from Brazilian Embraer. The selection of new weapons is part of a complex process, where it is also important that production also supports the economic development of the country. This is how the production of small arms of Czech origin came to Hungary, especially to Kiskunfélegyháza, but a similar process is taking place in connection with the acquisition of the Israeli Iron Dome radar system. Also very important is the factory established in Zalaegerszeg, where most of the Lynx armored combat vehicles purchased from Germany will be produced.

Title image: Hungarian Defense Minister Tibor Benkő. (Magyar Hírlap/Péter Papajcsik)

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