Czechs Balance Budget, Military Priorities

November 2011
By Robert K. Ackerman, SIGNAL Magazine
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A Czech mobile company command post uses ruggedized laptops (inset) to help provide tactical command and control for mobile forces. The Czech military must upgrade its communications and information systems both to accommodate technology capabilities and to suit new international mission obligations.

Funding cuts threaten military programs for the near future.

The Czech Republic is looking to modernize its armed forces to address new capabilities, improved information technologies and greater international obligations. However, budgetary pressures and demographics threaten to derail the country’s efforts to field an effective military capable of interoperating with its allies in out-of-area operations.

Not only must technological improvements be incorporated into existing systems, new capabilities also are needed to meet a growing mission set. The non-conscript force must continue to attract, train and retain top-notch people who can maintain a high level of performance. And, these broad improvements must take place against a backdrop of imposed fiscal austerity.

Dr. Alexandr Vondra, the defense minister of the Czech Republic, is not reticent about the challenges facing his country’s military amid this difficult budgetary environment. “The defense sector is undergoing a complicated time when budget resources are being substantially cut,” he states. “However, we should not drop to our knees. Similar situations are facing the armies of our allies in NATO and the EU [European Union].”

Gen. Vlastimil Picek, CZAF, chief of the General Staff, Czech Armed Forces, concurs that the biggest challenge facing the Czech military will be meeting the country’s obligations in the face of shrinking budgets. The military must continue to build up and develop interoperable forces that can serve with allies in a broad spectrum of operations.

Gen. Picek describes the Czech military’s top priorities as preparing and equipping its forces for international missions. These include emergency actions under the aegis of NATO, the EU and the United Nations.

The general notes that the defense budget has declined by more than 20 percent over the past two years. This will require a reevaluation of current plans and obligations. One possible way to offset defense budget cuts is through active international cooperation—such as in NATO’s Smart Defense, in which nations would pool and share capabilities, he offers.

A defense white paper published in May acknowledges shortcomings caused by bad planning and inappropriate budget cuts. It states that the armed forces “suffer from a long-term instability” because the defense budget is less than half of that originally anticipated in 2002. And, because of the current financial situation, the Defense Ministry cannot expect any marked increase in funding.

The white paper presents three major findings. The first is that the goal of a military force comprising 26,200 personnel likely will not be met because of demographics and competition from the commercial job market. The second finding is that the military’s cumulative budget deficit may be as high as 90 billion Czech crowns ($4.75 billion). And, the third is that much of the military’s equipment will reach the end of its operational life in the next few years, and the Defense Ministry will not be able to finance all of the previously planned modernizations.

To address these concerns, the white paper suggests several measures to ensure the continued viability of the country’s military. These measures reach across many areas of the Czech defense community, and some of them involve limiting military capabilities.

Referring to the white paper, Vondra declares that he will do whatever is necessary to ensure that personnel and their technologies correspond to current global military trends. This includes being able to meet the country’s military obligations domestically as well as internationally. He adds that this all-out modernization will be undertaken with the republic’s “real financial possibilities” in mind.

Vondra allows that several key issues confront the Czech military. First and foremost is stabilization, both in finances and in military personnel. Next year’s defense funding likely will be sufficient for the military to continue its operations and plans. However, the budgetary outlook for 2013 and 2014 is not good. “Should it become true, it would impact negatively the defense capabilities of our country,” the minister declares, adding that changing this outlook is his priority.

To keep a professional military staffed at adequate levels, Vondra is proposing several “motivation measures” to keep military professions attractive for the foreseeable future. In addition to steps preventing any decline in personnel income, these measures include what the minister describes as “a radically new system of remuneration.

“The military profession must keep its prestige,” he emphasizes. “It is not possible to continue in the trends of the past years when the military can hardly compete in the labor market.”

For equipment acquisition, Vondra is tightening procedures and management. He states openly that he is “cleaning the Defense Ministry” of its reputation for soft economic management and nonstandard processes. Fundamental to his effort are changes in the law regarding foreign military sales. This change creates conditions for acquisition “without so-called intermediaries,” he says. Previously, intermediary-based acquisitions had led to “doubtful practices” and more expensive equipment, he notes.

One hope for budgetary savings may lie in modernizing the Signal Corps. Gen. Picek says that modernizing the military’s communications infrastructure, along with integrating information system operations at the same level of security, will reduce operational costs substantially.

Some of the impetus for this modernization is the Czech military’s international obligations and its need to interoperate with the newest NATO and allied systems for both technological and operational reasons. As with many former Warsaw-Pact militaries, the Czech armed forces underwent substantial modernization throughout the communications and information systems arena when it joined NATO. Older Soviet-era equipment was replaced in the 1990s by digitized Western-type technologies, and the advent of the new millennium brought the integration of the traditional Signal Corps with sophisticated information technologies and information security systems. The result was the development of battle-ready communications and information systems for force-wide command and control (C2) with a focus on smaller units, such as at the battalion or company level.

Brig. Gen. Jan Kaše, CZA, is the director of the Communications and Information Systems Department in the Ministry of Defense and the chief of the Czech Armed Forces Signal Corps. He explains that the Czech military divides its communications and information systems into two realms: ground forces and air forces. For ground forces, tactical C2 systems consist largely of a transportable and mobile communications infrastructure as well as information system support. This permits C2 of ground operations from the brigade commander level down to the section commander. The air force’s tactical C2 originally focused on Czech airspace, but now it extends into—and interoperates with—international air traffic control and the NATO Alliance Air Command and Control System.

For ground forces, the military adopted a concept of commodity communication and information modules, or KIMs, to provide mobile communications and information systems that could be transported long distances to meet international commitments. These modules consist of basic elements in tents or containers, and they can be combined with tactical C2 elements on tracked and wheeled vehicles. Air forces also use transportable modules, particularly for planning and fire control for helicopter or anti-aircraft units. Gen. Kaše explains that these modules form the foundation of the military’s network-enabled capability.

Czech forces have used elements of their tactical C2 capabilities in several international operations, including the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. One module, the deployable squadron operation center, is used by a Czech helicopter squadron operating within a U.S. helicopter brigade. This module supports individual helicopter flight plans, and it monitors their mission operations.

Gen. Kaše relates that KIM-5 and KIM-10 modules also have been used to set up local area networks (LANs) in Kabul, Sharana and Logar. These LANs provide both secret and open voice and data services, he notes, and they are connected via satellite links to the national headquarters in the Czech Republic. The Czech forces in Afghanistan are able to exploit many of the same capabilities that they have in their home country, the general allows.

Gen. Kaše describes the future of the Czech Signal Corps as “the time of reforms and tuning for optimal performance.” The corps should be able to provide maximum capabilities for C2 support with “a minimum of financial and human resources,” he states. Among the key requirements are less-expensive communications and information systems operation, information systems integration, and improved quality of secure information services.

The tip of this spear is the use of Internet protocol (IP) technologies to integrate voice and data services. This approach will allow the Czech Signal Corps to increase the capacity and security of wireless data transfer as well as to integrate existing information systems at less cost.

And security is one of the key functions of the Czech Signal Corps. Gen. Kaše notes that the corps is proactive in building cybersecurity defenses against a broad range of attacks on defense communications and information systems. A special unit, the Cyber Incident and Response Capability (CIRC), was created in 2007 to help secure Czech military cyberspace. CIRC personnel have participated in coalition cyber defense training exercises, and they have done well in competition with their equivalents from advanced allied forces, Gen. Kaše reports.

Czech Republic Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces (English):
Czech Armed Forces Communication and Information Systems Division (English):


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