Five former chiefs of general staff: the army needs stable and predictable funding and continuity

Five former chiefs of general staff: the army needs stable and predictable funding and continuity
Author:|Caption: STRELA S-10 air defence system
18 / 06 / 2020, 10:00

A week ago five former chiefs of general staff of the Army of the Czech Republic were invited to the 34th meeting of the Defense Committee of the Chamber of Deputies to discuss the topic of ensuring the security of the Czech Republic. The joint statement of the five generals was clear: not to underestimate the importance of the development of the armed forces, the army needs stable and predictable funding and continuity that will exclude the effects of the current political situation. It is an investment in security, and at the same time with the high participation of domestic industry, it is a desirable stimulus for the economy. All of them have experiences with dealing with the effects of crises, whether due to natural disasters or economic disasters, and all of them had to face important cuts in defense budgets.

After an introductory speech by the chairwoman of the Committee, Jana Černochová, according to whom the defense budget should not be reduced even in the face of the expected economic crisis, Jiří Šedivý, the chief of general staff in 1998-2002, was the first to speak. In the situation after the great floods of 1997, his task was to prepare the Army for joining the North Atlantic Alliance and at the same time for a fundamental change - professionalization. As a result of the floods, there were significant changes in the existing concept of development, a situation which was subsequently repeated many more times.

As an example, he cited the unfinished modernization of the 4th Rapid Deployment Brigade, which had already begun in 2006. After fourteen years, some of the armament and equipment acquired at that time is already obsolete, and at the same time the brigade is still dependent on even older technologies in many aspects. According to General Šedivý, the current crisis associated with COVID-19 will certainly not change the world for the better. On the contrary, the risks will be more intense, and as a result it is very important to approach budgetary measures wisely. In conclusion, he spoke in favor of maintaining the currently adopted Concept for the Construction of the Army of the Czech Republic with goals for 2030, which in his opinion should be implemented.

See also: Czech Army should buy new tanks, not upgrade the T-72 – former Chief of General Staff says

After General Šedivý, his successor in office, the Chief of the General Staff in 2002-2007, General Pavel Štefka, highlighted the fact that the former Chiefs of General Staff are meeting for the first time on the topic of the security of the Czech Republic. He confirmed his predecessor's words about the need for a stable budgetary framework for force development. He cited a number of cases that illustrate the consequences of interventions in adopted development concepts and ill-conceived cuts in defense budgets. Among them, L-159 attack jets, which were accepted into service before 2000, but only in 2002 the army could began to address their armament - until then the plane was nicknamed as a "battlefield sound system." Or the still unfinished exchange of iconic but hopelessly obsolete Praga V3S vehicles for modern Tatras. And since the Army still has no choice but to rely on the V3S in some roles, it’s moves are planned to the parameters of these vehicles, which, among other things, will only develop a speed of 15 km/h uphill.

He also mentioned the modernization of T-72 tanks, which was approved in 1994 on a generous scale, which was gradually reduced to the final three dozen unique vehicles introduced into service since 2003. Maintaining at least this, otherwise insufficient, number of tanks allowed the Army to maintain the tankers as a branch, its know-how and development potential - building it again on a green field would be costly or even out of the question. Similar cuts were also encountered in the project to acquire the Wheeled IFV Pandur II, which were originally supposed to be 400, then 200, and finally a hundred as a result of cuts during the economic crisis, while for many years the Army lacked special variants, which are not available untill now. According to General Štefka, the situation of the Army is unbearable in the area of ​​armored vehicles and in an indirect reaction to the Supreme Audit Office’s recent audit findings, and he expressed hope that the cuts in the area of ​​investment in technologies will be avoided by the Government.

See also: Czech Army acquisitions – the Army says it has no budget for modern MBTs

Army General Vlastimil Picek served as Chief of General Staff in 2007-2012, at a time when the Government's response to the economic crisis led, among other things, to a dramatic drop in defense spending, which was quickly hlaved from almost 2% of GDP (to which the Czech Republic committed itself as NATO member). General Picek recalled the unpleasant obligation to dismiss newly recruited soldiers after a few months for austerity reasons when reducing troops. Recruiting soldiers is now going well for the Army - and according to General Picek, it must be borne in mind that such a situation cannot be achieved from year to year and must be maintained over the long term.

Like General Štefka, he said that the Army lacked special variants of the Pandurs. He also mentioned the ongoing project to buy 210 tracked IFVs for 52 billion crowns - which, according to General Picek, is a lot of money at first glance, but the vehicles will serve in the army for decades. He spoke in favor of purchasing vehicles with a clear definition of life-cycle costs, the absence of which so far has been one of the Supreme Audit Office's main criticisms of the Ministry of Defense. He recalled the coming end of Gripen fighter jets leasing and the need to address the issue of supersonic aviation. In his opinion, the Gripen aircraft have fully proved themselves and meet the needs of the Army of the Czech Republic and will suffice, the Czech Republic will not need last generation jets like the F-35 as a replacement. Last but not least, he reminded that the defense budget must not forget to invest in real estate infrastructure, while the internal debt in this area already existed during his tenure.

In 2012-2015, Army General Petr Pavel served as Chief of the General Staff, and was subsequently chairman of the NATO Military Committee until 2018. He recalled, in his words, "banal principles", which should be repeated, however: ensuring security and defense is a fundamental function of the state and a vital necessity. According to General Pavel, the current crisis will contribute to instability. As a member of NATO and the EU, the Czech Republic has currently chosen the most effective and at the same time the cheapest, ie collective defense mechanism. He emphasized that unanimity was taking place within NATO and that all national commitments made were voluntary and inevitably had to be reflected in national defense planning. The Army must be kept modern and at the same time ready, combat-ready. Investment in defense is important for the domestic industry as a whole, he said. The effectiveness of collective defense depends on the quality of individual armies, and it is important to contribute to this responsibly. This is not a dictation - the resulting joint allied force is in our own interest.

See also: General Petr Pavel – small army must rely on quality

The successor of General Pavel in the position of Chief of General Staff and the last of the five army generals participating in the discussion was General Josef Bečvář. He began by saying that none of the visions of reorganization and modernization of the Army of the Czech Republic created and adopted so far had been fully implemented. He expressed the hope that the current valid Concept of Construction of the Army of the Czech Republic approved by all concerned institutions will be fully implemented. He described the recent acquisitions (mentioning helicopters or the ongoing purchase of 155mm guns) as positive, but at the same time the Army's huge internal indebtedness in virtually all areas from spare parts to infrastructure persists. He said that continuity of development without major interference from changing Governments is essential for the Army. He mentioned the potential of the Czech defense industry, which must play a crucial role in the modernization of the Czech Army.

MP Jan Řehounek asked the generals how they perceive the system of service of military vehicles set up since 1993, which takes place in the form of outsourcing, and the Army is thus dependent on external suppliers. The answer was received by General Šedivý, who first appealed to the members of the Committee to see that the declared participation of Czech industry in contracts will actually be ensured by Czech companies, owned by Czech citizens and especially taxing in the Czech Republic. So that it is not just about reselling foreign products by Czech entities, and making a profit abroad, which would deny the meaning of the required share of Czech industry in acquisition and modernization projects. He described the outsourcing of the service as a mistake, but it is probably not possible to correct it, because the Army lost facilities and experts as a result and everything would have to be rebuilt on a green field with probably unacceptable costs. According to General Šedivý, well-set contracts must be concluded with service suppliers and the service must take place on the territory of the Czech Republic, preferably in the form of licensed production/service. MP Karel Schwarzenberg, former minister of foreign affairs, concluded that the Army should not get involved in politics in a democratic society, but at the same time it must learn to lobby for its interests, because no one will give anyone anything for free today.

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