Gen. Karel Řehka: The Bahna event helps us build a relationship with the public
This year's 33rd annual Bahna (Mud) Day in Strašice, Rokycany, was attended by over 50,000 visitors. The main attractions were the Leopard 2A4 tank and the STARKOM mobile jammer, which are now in service in our army. Visitors to the event were also impressed by flyovers of combat and police helicopters, which were part of dynamic demonstrations. A traditional part of the Bahna event was also a historical programme, which this year was in the spirit of "Svobodovci for Freedom" and recalled the fighting of the 1st Czechoslovak Army Corps in Ukraine in 1943. The accompanying programme also included presentations by armament companies, presentations by the Military Police and a presentation by the recruitment centre of the Czech Armed Forces. 500 professional soldiers and 200 members of other corps or members of historical associations took part in this year's Bahna event.
Video: Reportage from the Bahna 2023 event (presentations, interviews) / CZ DEFENCE
Minister of Defence Jana Černochová, not only in her opening speech, but also in her subsequent interview with CZ DEFENCE, stated the importance of enacting a 2% of GDP spending on defence. "It is important for planning. Not only so that the starved army finally gets more modern equipment that meets the needs of the twenty-first century. But, of course, so that we have the opportunity to acquire that equipment as quickly as possible. The war in the Ukraine is making military equipment much more expensive. So what could have been done ten years ago for less money will cost us more now. On the other hand, the army can plan on the basis of the two percent and the strategic projects that I will submit to the government and will have its certainty what will be coming to the Czech Republic in what years," the minister said.
Video: AČR – Firing from Pandur II 8x8 wheeled IFV (VR 360° video) - Use the arrows in the top left corner of the screen to rotate the camera in the desired direction or press and hold the left mouse button and then move the mouse in the desired direction. Use the "+" and "-" keys to zoom the image) / CZ DEFENCE
After a break forced by the coronavirus pandemic, this year's event was also open to foreign partners. For example, the Austrian army brought a new Pandur EVO armoured personnel carrier, the Slovak army presented the Zuzana 2 self-propelled howitzer, Polish soldiers showed the Rosomak combat vehicle or the Rak self-propelled mortar, and the German Bundeswehr brought the Puma combat vehicle. It is with German and Slovak troops that our soldiers are now serving in the Multi-National Battlegroup in Slovakia (MN BG SVK), the importance of which was also highlighted by Defence Minister Jana Černochová. "The Czech Republic wants and will continue to operate in Slovakia and it is only a question of whether we will still be the leading country or whether we will take turns with someone in the future. For example, so that we can move the capacities we have on the eastern flank within the Baltic countries in a meaningful way," the Defence Minister told CZ DEFENCE.
We also had the opportunity to speak with the Chief of the General Staff of the Czech Armed Forces, Lieutenant General Karel Řehka, and the Commander of the Ground Forces of the Czech Armed Forces, Major General Roman Náhončík, where the Chief of the General Staff appreciated the importance of the Bahna event as one of the largest army presentations in our country, as follows. You can see both modernised and historical equipment. If people have visited this show several years in a row, they see the Army literally changing before their eyes. That's important because ultimately public support is why we can modernize." Major General Náhončík then added: "Seeing the evolution of technology and the modernisation of the Army is exactly the unique moment for visitors to see at the Bahna."
"What is extremely important for the army is the implementation of weapon systems into the army structures. It is awkward to wait until there is a security crisis and then start modernising, because then everyone wants to acquire weapons. These weapons are scarce, have to wait in a queue and are more expensive. So all these strategic projects always take some years, and of course it varies depending on the type of equipment. For example, now the contract for the purchase of the IFV is signed, realistically everything will be in place and integrated around 2030. So the brigade task force will be combat capable as a whole in about seven years," said General Řehka.
"It should be remembered that the original equipment was charged to the era of the 1950s, 1960s or 1980s. Today, with the new technology, it takes us longer to prepare and train a soldier to be able to fully operate the new equipment and to use all the capabilities that the new equipment has on the battlefield. We need time to do that," added Gen. Náhončík.
In addition to the modernisation process, the main priority remains the recruitment of soldiers, both professionals and active reserve soldiers. Both of these components of the army are equally important for the functioning of the army, which was confirmed to CZ DEFENCE by Lt. Gen. Řehka. "They are all really important. Of course, we need to increase the number of professional soldiers, but we also need to have strong active reserves. They are absolutely a full-fledged part of the Army of the Czech Republic. We use them in crisis situations, we deploy them in operations and we will continue to do so in the future. And just like the active element, the reserve element is also important. The active reserve is exceptional in that the army can draw on it relatively quickly, even before a state of national emergency or a state of war, unlike other reserves," explained Chief of General Staff Řehka.
"Every training in a multinational environment is a benefit for the unit deployed there. It's not just about improving their English language skills, but also testing the interoperability of individual elements and equipment," explained Major General Náhončík. "The soldiers have such a long-standing motto, in English it is 'Train as you fight', or if you want to 'train as you fight', said the commander of the land forces of the Czech Armed Forces, who was complemented by Gen. Náhončík. "That's why the international environment is important, because we will fight as part of an alliance."
There was great interest from the audience in the displays of the partners of the Bahna event. The Czechoslovak Group (CSG) brought to Bahna, among others, an armoured TITUS 6x6 vehicle designed for the Czech Armed Forces, in the MKPP (fire support coordination point) version.
Other exhibits included the Tatra Phoenix 8x8 container carrier with armoured cab and the Tatra Phoenix 8x8 container loader with standard cab and ISO 1C container for military applications, presented by Karbox from Přelouč.
KOBIT presented the TATRA PHOENIX 8x8 firefighting vehicle, which is designed for handling, salvage and towing work. This equipment is particularly important in the removal of the consequences of natural disasters and calamity conditions.
This year, STV Group presented two American vehicles that serve in the US Army. It was the Flyer 72-HD vehicle, which is characterized by excellent terrain clearance and the possibility of parachute drop. The crew capacity is 6 plus 1, weighing less than three tons and carrying an additional three tons. The second exhibit that received a lot of attention from visitors was the Oshkosh JLTV vehicle, which has mine protection and ballistic protection at the level of MRAP armoured vehicles.
The historical program was presented in detail by the founder of the event, František Koch. "The historical theme is Czechoslovaks in the fight for freedom. We wanted to commemorate this struggle with our demonstrations. In the first demonstration we saw a combined detachment of the Armoured Brigade crossing the border in Aš and in the next we wanted to commemorate the fighting in Ukraine, because the Czech-Soviet tank brigade was the first to liberate the centre of Kiev. We all know that ours fought at Sokolov. Even Ludvík Svoboda fought in 1917 as a legionary at Zborov," said František Koch. And how important is it to remember the history of the struggle for freedom not only nowadays? "Here it is especially important for people to realise it. I always emphasise Svoboda's sentence 'We lost our freedom so easily, and we regained it so hard, with such sacrifices'. That's why we always try to remind people of these things. The motto of our museum in Rokycany is: No one has the right to forget. And by that we mean the 360,000 dead citizens of this country who perished during the occupation and World War II," František Koch told CZ DEFENCE, who is definitely not quitting the Bahen organization, as he threatened last year.
"History is often neglected and often underestimated. Few people realise that a hundred years ago a Czech soldier was synonymous with a good soldier. Unfortunately, Švejk has spoiled our reputation a little bit, and although the legionnaires and other resistance fighters of World War II tried their best, the Švejk still lingers a little bit. However, little is known, for example, that the legions' contribution to the end of World War I was quite significant," explained Stanislav Drábek, who also admitted that the historical part of the programme could include some examples from modern history, for example from missions. This year's Bahna Run is over, but the organisers will start working on the programme for next year's Bahna Run in a few weeks.