Top professionals leave the army before transformation

Jaroslav Tvrdik

After several centuries of compulsory military service in the Czech Lands, conscription could soon become a thing of the past. Until recently, a professional army has been little more than a dream for those who hate doing their national service - as well as those who love life in camouflage.

Jaroslav Tvrdik
Now, their dreams may come true, as the newly appointed Defence Minister, Jaroslav Tvrdik, is working on a new concept for the Czech armed forces, with a small yet efficient professional army as one of the likely options. Vladimir Tax reports.

Defence Ministry spokesman Milan Repka gave us an outline of the process:

"We need to prepare a material for the government on the transformation of the Czech military forces into a fully professional army. Preparation of this material will take three months, that is until August this year, the second stage of the preparation of our Army for this transformation should be completed by December this year."

While plans are in the pipeline to create a professional army, the defence sector is losing top professionals. Just a week after the chief commander of the Czech Air Force announced his resignation, the Czech Defence Ministry is to suffer another painful loss, as the head of the defence planning department is reportedly considering deserting to civvy street.

A couple of days after the commander of the Czech Air Force, Lieutenant General Ladislav Klima, announced that he was going off duty in the autumn, reports appeared in the Czech press that the head of the defence planning department at the Ministry of Defence, Petr Voznica, was seriously considering quitting and take up a lucrative job in the civilian sector. Klima and Voznica, both respected experts, claim that the main reason for their decision was personal and had nothing to do with the unsatisfactory state of the military.

Petr Voznica is a graduate of the Royal College of Defence Studies in the UK, and a former commander of the Czech chemical forces. He won renown for his excellent performance during devastating floods that hit the Czech Republic in 1997, when he coordinated the crisis staff group.

These two resignations come very soon after the newly appointed Minister of Defence, Jaroslav Tvrdik, was charged with transforming the Czech army into a fully professional body. The new minister began with sweeping his department clean - he replaced all three deputy ministers and the newcomers in turn promised to make changes at lower management levels.

The Czech defence sector is in a poor state, partly due to the legacy of the 40 years of Communism, partly due to numerous mistakes over the past ten years. Mr. Tvrdik has outlined his plans - to build a smaller, flexible, highly mobile and better equipped army, as well as to reconsider some costly projects, such as the modernisation of the Russian-designed T-72 tanks or the purchase of new Czech-made, sub-sonic fighter aircraft.

The new minister has started out by removing ineffective and corrupt officials, observers say, but they also feel that the departure of Mr Klima and Mr Voznica, is something he'll regret.