Czech Military Balances Old, New

September 2008
By Robert K. Ackerman
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Two new Czech Republic JAS-39 Gripen aircraft fly in formation. Confronted with a large bloc of obsolete or non-interoperable hardware, the Czech military has been replacing some systems outright and upgrading others to extend their usefulness.
But upgrading legacy systems does not necessarily achieve interoperability.

The armed forces of the Czech Republic are wrestling with interoperability issues as they strive to modernize in place a military largely built around legacy systems. The 60-year-old Atlantic alliance to which the Czech Republic belongs still has not achieved complete interoperability, so the former Warsaw Pact member is trying to achieve compatibility with an organization that has not yet reached its own interoperability goals.

Faced with tight defense budgets, the Czech Republic is replacing older systems incrementally as it upgrades some platforms to last beyond their planned service lives. It is embracing network centricity as the cornerstone of its military future. And, it is pursuing joint modernization and transformation in concert with its allies in spite of increasingly strident opposition from some non-NATO forces.

Lt. Gen. Vlastimil Picek is the chief of the general staff of the armed forces of the Czech Republic (ACR). The top military officer in the democracy, Gen. Picek assumed his position in March of last year. He comes from a strong signal background, including the top signal position in the Czech armed forces: director of Ministry of Defense Command and Control Division–chief of the ACR Signal Corps. This signal background helps him tremendously in his current assignment, he offers, noting that people in the Czech armed forces say that signal personnel make excellent operators because they possess the right operational thinking. This reasoning follows that because signal personnel know the command and control system and know how to tailor it to a specific operational scenario, they also can use it to make the right well-informed decisions.

This philosophy, which Gen. Picek suggests applies to all militaries, is even more appropriate in the era of military network centricity and information superiority. While as chief of the general staff he is not involved with specific operational command and control, he is tasked with transforming the Czech military into a force that can interoperate in a NATO networking environment.

Among the country’s top transformational priorities is the implementation of a network-enabled capability (NEC) concept. Gen. Picek explains that the Czech defense community views NEC not just as a capability to achieve information superiority but also primarily as a vehicle to transform existing basic operational capabilities for greater operational effectiveness.

In 2006, the Czech Republic completed a four-year implementation of the first step in its defense reform. The transition to step 2 began last year, and its activities should lead to full operational capability by 2018. The general describes these goals as enhancing the capabilities of the Czech armed forces; increasing the proportion of deployable forces; optimizing command, organizational and personnel management structures; improving mobilization processes and requirements along with administrative and support processes; and complete organizational and basing changes.

Achieving these goals amounts to a slight increase in defense spending. The Ministry of Defense budget for fiscal year 2009 should be about 55.8 billion koruna ($3.8 billion), reaching 60 billion koruna ($4.09 billion) by 2010. As a percentage of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), this translates to about 1.38 percent. Gen. Picek forecasts that Czech defense spending as a percentage of GDP will increase in 2011 through 2018.

The Czech Republic shares with other NATO allies who are former Warsaw Pact members the challenge of incorporating into alliance operations a force equipped largely with gear from the former Soviet Union. This equipment makes up too much of the country’s arsenal to be replaced entirely, yet it does not interoperate easily with modern NEC systems. Gen. Picek explains that the Czech Republic is opting to both modernize legacy systems and replace some with newer gear.

For example, the country’s T-72 main battle tanks will remain a mainstay of armored ground forces, but they have been modernized to a third-generation standard. They now can use traditional or NATO ammunition in their 7.62-millimeter machine guns, and their night observation and surveillance systems have been upgraded. The country also has upgraded the instrumentation in its BMP-2 vehicles.

Hardware replacement currently focuses on obsolete or largely uninteroperable systems. The Czech Republic is replacing systems incrementally where possible as part of its transformation effort.

The Czech armed forces are adding the Ericsson Artillery Hunting Radar (ARTHUR), which already is in use with several other European militaries. ARTHUR can coordinate return fire from friendly assets while it tracks as many as eight incoming shells. Interoperability for network-enabled capabilities is a top priority for Czech military modernization.
The country is equipping its forces with the Ericsson Artillery Hunting Radar, also known as ARTHUR. This system is in use in the Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and British militaries. The Czech Republic also is procuring Swedish RBS-70 manportable air defense systems.

The air force has replaced its venerable MiG-21 fighter aircraft with Swedish Saab JAS-39 Gripen aircraft. These aircraft joined L-159 subsonic light combat aircraft built by the Czech company Aero Vodochody in partnership with the Boeing Company. And, a pair of old Soviet-built Tupolev Tu-154 transport aircraft were replaced by two new Airbus A-319s.

The country also has committed to replacing its armored wheeled vehicles. It terminated a contract with an Austrian firm in December of last year for unmet stipulations, but it is reopening talks with the company on a new contract to deliver 100 new vehicles.

Future procurements may include medium transportation aircraft and other armored vehicles. Gen. Picek emphasizes that additional modernization efforts will depend entirely on whether defense receives the necessary authorized appropriations.

As with all coalition-oriented militaries, interoperability is a challenge. Gen. Picek is not shy about the failure of many interoperability measures precisely when they are needed more than ever.

“Technology interoperability is a long-term persistent challenge tackled by all NATO nations,” he observes. “Unfortunately, not all standardization efforts and investments have delivered the desired outcome yet.

“At the same time, the development of NATO networking capabilities significantly increases the requirement placed on technology interoperability, which is indeed critical for the development of such joint networking capabilities,” he declares.

The general continues that the Czech military largely has employed a top-down approach to developing interoperability. This has helped achieve some measure of interoperability in deployed allied operations from the fixed command post level up to the highest levels of command and control. He cites projects such as a force tracking system that employs the NATO Friendly Force Interface (NFFI); a common operational picture via the Multilateral Interoperability Program (MIP); and information exchange using the NATO-selected Information Exchange Gateway concept, or IEG.

However, this top-down approach has failed to provide interoperability at the lowest command and control echelons—which is essential for tactical cooperation in the midst of operations. So the Czech military now is adopting a bottom-up approach to interoperability by focusing on combat platforms at the individual soldier level. This effort includes cooperation with the United States, especially in radio communications. The Czech Republic aims to continue and expand this cooperation in the future, the general adds.

He emphasizes that lower-level tactical interoperability is achievable only via interoperable radio systems with crypto devices. This constitutes the primary challenge because there are no fully interoperable radio systems that include secure communications. While the ongoing software defined radio program should deliver those capabilities, it does not have sufficient momentum within NATO, he observes. The U.S. Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) is the only option for secure interoperable radio communications.

Gen. Picek adds that the Czech Republic is launching research projects to develop interoperability in providing operational and information services. These projects are focusing on a service-oriented architecture approach.

The Czech military’s principal mission is to defend the republic against external attack, Gen. Picek warrants; however, the country also is an active participant in the NATO collective defense system “based on a strong transatlantic link.”

NATO defense planning require- ments form the basis for Czech military transformation, the general continues. This will improve interoperability and give the armed forces the capability to support NATO out-of-area operations. Gen. Picek emphasizes that the Czech Republic will continue to take part actively in NATO-led deployed operations, including those that fall under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which states that an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all members.

Accordingly, a portion of the Czech military transformation includes improving the ability of the country to provide sufficient numbers of deployable land and air units. Gen. Picek cites commitments undertaken at the 2004 NATO summit in Istanbul, Turkey, at which NATO affirmed its policy of constructive security measures beyond its own borders.

In the Czech Republic, the military supports allied forces on its own territory, including missions as part of the NATO Integrated Air Defense System. This system’s activities comprise both air and missile defense.

While the Czech Republic has been incorporating its defense and security activities more closely with its NATO allies, the former Warsaw Pact nation has been receiving increased criticism from Russia. This criticism reached a crescendo with a recent agreement between the Czech Republic and the United States on basing a European antiballistic missile defense radar in the NATO nation.

Noting that his country does not possess any capability to defend its territory against long-range ballistic missiles, Gen. Picek defends the need for the antimissile system, especially given the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). “The Military Strategy of the Czech Republic, a defense policy document, defines the need to join systems of collective international defense against threats involving a WMD attack,” he states. “The only existing system of defense against such types of weapons is the U.S. missile defense system, which is to become an integral part of the developed NATO missile defense system in the future. In case a missile defense system pillar is developed in Central Europe, it also will provide defensive coverage against missile attack for a majority of European allies.”

Addressing Russian concerns, Gen. Picek expresses confidence that there is room for dialogue between the missile defense partners and the Russian Federation. He notes that the NATO-Russia Council already has discussed the issue several times. The general emphasizes, however, that ensuring and strengthening the Czech Republic’s national territory is a sovereign matter for that country alone.

Web Resources
Czech Ministry of Defense (English):
NATO Istanbul Summit Communiqué:
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