Friday, 20 October 2017

Defence minister boasting of rising budget

ČTK |
5 October 2017

Prague, Oct 4 (CTK) - The rising defence budget and recruitment of new soldiers are successes of the past term of office, Czech Defence Martin Stropnicky (ANO) told CTK in an interview summarising his work on Wednesday.

Slow modernisation of the military and problems with enactment of the laws on Military Intelligence and Military Police are the failures, Stropnicky said.

Stropnicky became the 15th Czech defence minister in early 2014 and the only one to have served the whole term of office.

Critics say during his tenure, the military was slow to update its obsolete equipment, arguing that given the security situation and growing GDP, the rise in the defence budget could be higher.

Military experts praise Stropnicky for the enactment of new defence legislation, successful recruitment of new soldiers and the development of active reserves.

Stropnicky said only few NATO members were rising their defence budgets by 10 percent as the Czech Republic was doing.

When joining NATO, the Czech Republic pledged to spend 2 percent of its GDP on defence, but the real sum oscillated around 1 percent in recent years.

"There was a desperate lack of staff in some units or only 83 percent [of the prescribed] military personnel in the whole military. We started with 21,000 [soldiers] and we will have 24,000 by the end of this year. Given the low jobless rate, the growth is substantial," Stropnicky said.

"We managed to stir interest in civic participation in national defence, including a voluntary military training in Vyskov, south Moravia," he added.

Stropnicky admitted that he had expected a faster pace of modernisation of the military.

"Sometimes we needed more time [than planned] when we were buying something. Some error appeared on the path, the error may have occurred on the part of a manufacturer or those who lost the tender complained," Stropnicky said.

"The competition in the arms industry is enormous because tremendous money is at stake there," he added.

Stropnicky said the ministerial staff were working under a big pressure, fearing that "some mistake might be invented within the competition fight."

Stropnicky said during his tenure, the ministry had invested 42 billion crowns.

He spoke about the purchase of equipment for 818 million crowns, airport radars for 600 million and 20 Pandur armoured personnel vehicles for over one billion crowns.

Several-year contracts worth billions were signed for the servicing of the aircraft, helicopters and vehicles, he added.

"There is a big chance of signing [contracts] for at least ten billion crowns later this year," he added.

A postponed contract agreement for the purchase of Israeli mobile radar systems for 3.6 billion crowns is to be signed soon, Stropnicky said.

The military might buy another CASA transport plane, he added.

The military will need to replace two Yak-40 planes whose life span ends in two and three years, respectively. In 2021, another Challenger small transport plane will also have to be decommissioned, Stropnicky said.

The four CASA planes have well served the Czech military.

"They did a great deal of good work in the Sinai. If the military needs a new plane, which seems to be so, the logic says 'we have something with which we are satisfied, so we should have more of it," Stropnicky said.

The Defence Ministry has prepared the relevant plan, but its approval is up to the next government, to arise from the October election.

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