Army chief sees future in modern technologies, stresses need to continue defence procurement

Aleš Opata

The future of the Czech Army lies in cutting edge technologies and a new way of thinking about the battlefield domain, Chief of the General Staff Aleš Opata said at the Army’s annual meeting of commanders on Tuesday. The chief of staff praised the nascent government’s plans to continue increasing defence spending towards the 2 percent of GDP target and the largescale procurements of equipment made over the past two years. However, he also stressed the need to complete the acquisition of new armoured personnel carriers.

The Czech Army has been more visible domestically since the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic during which it has been used regularly to bolster medical and auxiliary support in severely affected regions, as well as providing security at vaccination centres. It may be one of the reasons why trust in the army polled at record levels in last year’s STEM survey, reaching 78 percent.

In his speech, General Opata mentioned the successes of the coronavirus deployment, but also spoke about the impact that it has had on the army’s training capabilities.

“Another year in which we have had to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic has passed. It has proven our ability of rapid deployment, adaptation and reaction. We also finished our 20-year-long mission in Afghanistan. Everyone thanked us for [our help during] Covid, but people are also often quick to forget.”

CAESAR self-propelled howitzer | Photo: Nexter

The defence readiness that the army chief referred to includes the modernisation of the Czech armed forces, an ongoing task which has seen the army undertake some of the largest military procurements in its modern history over the past three years.  These include new CAESAR self-propelled howitzers, a new SHORAD air-defence system, UH-1Y Venom helicopters, CASA tactical transport planes and more.

However, the chief of staff also noted that the largest tender so far, the purchase of new armoured personnel carriers, has been put on hold after all three contenders in the in the CZK 50 billion deal were not able to fulfil the conditions of the tender.

"I am very concerned about the current situation. This project must not be stopped or slowed down under any circumstances. It is a matter of national security and will not be postponed."

The incoming government, which is to be led by Petr Fiala of the Civic Democrats, has announced that it plans to cut more than CZK 70 billion from the country’s deficit. While, these are not expected to impact defence spending, the army’s chief of staff made sure to remind the future government of their pre-election promise to fulfil the spending targets agreed at the NATO summit in Wales seven years ago.

AH-1Z Viper and UH-1Y Venom | Photo: Bell Helicopters

“I also strongly hope that we will be able to work well with the new government. Our country needs it. It is necessary to reach the 2 percent of GDP expenditure on defence threshold and I am grateful that this is one of the priorities of the upcoming coalition.”

The process of modernising the army needs to be sped up according to the chief of staff, who said that there are also several other important projects on the horizon. These include modernising the supersonic segment of the air force, acquiring new tanks to replace the Soviet-era T-72, as well as investing into digitisation and new information systems.

Nevertheless, what is most important for the future, according to the chief of staff, is to change the way the Czech army thinks about warfare – from a linear to a multi-domain perception of the modern battlefield.

In terms of technology, he sees the growing importance of artificial intelligence, pilotless vehicles, laser guided munitions and robotics for the armed forces.