Top military brass, politicians stress need to modernise Czech Army

Andrej Babiš, Aleš Opata, photo: ČTK/Roman Vondrouš

The Czech Army is planning for its biggest restructuring and rearmament effort since the country joined NATO twenty years ago. Top military brass and politicians, convened for their annual meeting, both stressed the need to modernise the army to face 21st century threats.

Andrej Babiš,  Aleš Opata,  photo: ČTK/Roman Vondrouš
Czech Army chief of staff Aleš Opata on Wednesday laid out a laundry list of pricey military purchases in the works and on the horizon through the year 2030, from orders for multipurpose helicopters and combat vehicles to radar systems.

“The Czech Army is at a turning point. We are working on the biggest rearmament in our history. We have done a great deal already, but even more is ahead of us.”

In his address to the Command Assembly, as it is known, General Opata went on to outline comprehensive plans to beef up the nation’s capabilities to waged and defence against conventional and hybrid warfare.

He thanked President Miloš Zeman, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and Defence Minister Lubomír Metnar for supporting the military expansion, citing an ancient military treatise by Chinese general Sun Tzu.

“As Master Tzu wrote, ‘The art of war teaches us not to hope that the enemy will not come, but on our own readiness to receive him; that we have made our position unassailable.

“In the Concept for Developing the Czech Army through 2030, we set fundamental goals. If we want to fulfil them, we must change our methods. The tactics that worked ten years ago do not apply today. In another ten years, they will be obsolete.”

Czech soldiers in Mali,  photo: Jan Šulc / Czech Army
According to the Concept, the Ministry of Defence budget should reach 2 percent of GDP in 2024 (up from 1.19 percent this year). Apart from major armaments purchases, he said the money will be allocated for example towards investments in intelligence-gather technology and unmanned operations, using drones, and beefing up the 7th Mechanized Brigade.

“But the 7th Brigade itself will not ensure our defence. Battles will take place in all domains and environments. The future of warfare is primarily in automation and artificial intelligence. Let’s work together to be prepared. The importance of information, the speed of change and scope of situations we must face will continue to grow.”

General Opata did not specifically mentions drones, but President Miloš Zeman, long an advocate of unmanned technology, welcomed that initiative in particular.

Noting that big-ticket military orders were being filled by foreign suppliers – radar systems from Israeli, helicopters from the US – Zeman also stressed it was essential to guarantee the participation of Czech defence companies.

“If we purchase modern armaments from abroad, we should insist on offsets of 30 percent – at minimum 30 percent – for our defence industry. Please recall that the Czech Republic, or rather the former Czechoslovakia, had a great tradition in the sector. It would not be good for us to abandon this tradition.”

President Zeman was, however, preaching to the choir – or perhaps playing to the cameras.

Aleš Opata,  Andrej Babiš,  Miloš Zeman,  Lubomír Metnar,  photo: ČTK/Roman Vondrouš
Last week, the Ministry of Defence approved the purchase of 12 military helicopters from Bell rather than a cheaper option due to the US company’s offer of greater cooperation with Czech firms, in particular state-owned LOM Praha, which fixes and maintains Soviet-era Mi-24 helicopters.

Recalling French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent lamentation that NATO is experiencing “brain death”, Zeman said if that were true, it is because the alliance remains too focused on conventional warfare, and not doing enough to combat terrorism.

Meanwhile, it was announced at Wednesday’s assembly that the Czech Army will assume command of the EU’s military training mission in Mali, where 120 of its soldiers are serving, and lead it for six months. The mission’s main task is to help build the West African country’s capacity to fight radical Islamists.