Czech Defence Minister criticizes the army

Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik

By Alena Skodova

Minister Tvrdik had no words of praise - especially for army planes L-159 - which have a high failure rate and as he put it, 'might be more dangerous for their pilots than for a possible enemy'. The army has signed a contract with the plane manufacturer, Aero Vodochody worth 50 billion crowns, but out of a total of 72 planes, only 24 have been delivered so far. The president of Aero Vodochody, Antonin Jakubse, currently in Dubai, has admitted there were some problems.

Mr. Jakubse said he was aware of the fact that the delivery of L-159s has been delayed, but that a new timetable was agreed upon some time ago under which his factory will deliver a 37th plane before the end of the year. He also said that if there were no further problems, Aero is ready to deliver all the 72 planes on time.

But Minister Tvrdik went on to criticize Czech soldiers' lazy and unprofessional approach, as well as obsolete technical equipment that the army is using. Minister Tvrdik is the first Czech Defence Minister to use such strong wording about the bleak state of affairs within his own ministry, and so Alena Skodova asked commentator Vaclav Zak if the Czech army really was in such bad shape?

"Well, I would say that it is, because the reform of the army over the past ten years was misconceived. To have a good army strategy you need a consensus of all political parties but there was not such a consensus over the past ten years and so there were no reforms, only attempts, and nobody was able to put on paper any long term strategy at all. For example we have a military strategy, it has nine points of priorities but from no point you can read that we need to buy supersonic fighters, and the army needs some. Because of this lack of concept, the reform caused that the best people left the army, and only people who would have problems to find another job, stayed at the army. Even people who weeere trained in Western universities, for example in the USA at West Point left the army, because they were unable to find a reasonable place. I would say that Mr.Tvrdik is right."

But in fact Mr.Tvrdik criticised his own party as well, because it has been more than three years in office already and it has done nothing. Do you think that he still has enough time to change anything before the elections?

"Well, I think that minister Tvrdik is the first professional person in the post. After the revolution the political parties said that the minister of defense must be a civilian. But unfortunately no civilian was able to understand what the army needs. Minister Tvrdik is now a civilian, but less than a year ago he was a high military officer, so he is really the first person that is able to formulate a reasonable concept of the army. And he is doing so. It is quite natural htat he won't have enough time to carry it through to the end, but he will attempt to start something."