US-Czech military training session underway

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Preparations for the November NATO summit in Prague are in full swing, with security issues receiving top priority. This week Czech and US military forces are conducting a military exercise aimed at protecting the skies over the Czech capital.

Although the Czech Republic can shoulder the burden of providing adequate security on the ground, it will require assistance in protecting the country's air-space. It has been agreed that this will be a joint US-Czech responsibility with the US Air Force providing supersonic fighter jets and the air-borne radar system AWACS. Coordination exercises are already underway and on Wednesday the Czech government gave the training session over Czech territory its formal approval. Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik:

"This is a training session to test the security mechanism involving Czech MiG-21 fighter jets, our L-159 subsonic aircraft and Mi-24 military helicopters in coordination with the AWACS radar system and US fighter jets. The US military fighter jets will operate from NATO military bases in Germany."

On Thursday the joint training exercise will allegedly focus on the elimination of a military or civilian terrorist target which has violated Czech airspace.

Although a framework agreement on the workings of this security mechanism is in place, Minister Tvrdik explains that not all details have been finalized and commanders are waiting to see how the coordination exercise will work.

"This military exercise will be carefully analyzed by both the Czech Republic and NATO and by the end of next week we should reach final agreement on the workings of the security mechanism, on how the available resources will be used, on questions of command and decision-making".

Although the safety of Czech airspace will thus be guaranteed for the upcoming NATO summit, the Czech government will still be left with an important decision - how to safeguard the country's airspace all year round. Following the recent devastating floods, the idea of buying a fleet of new supersonic fighter jets has been shelved and the government must soon decide whether it wants to buy older aircraft from a foreign airforce or rely on its NATO allies to come to its assistance in the event of a crisis.