Jiří Protiva: Even a state-owned enterprise can be a modern company
In the last two years, the state enterprise LOM PRAHA has been referred to as a successful enterprise of the Ministry of Defence, which manages to start new projects and change the existing work offer into promising projects. The company has been headed for two years by Jiří Protiva, under whose leadership LOM PRAHA has emerged from the initial crisis situation to positive economic results and a unique position as a guarantor of life cycle support of aviation equipment and aviation training for the Czech Army, the European Union and the Alliance. At the same time, the state enterprise is transforming from an Eastern to a Western platform and is significantly involved in the strategic modernisation programmes of the Czech Armed Forces.
Video: Interview with LOM PRAHA Director Jiří Protiva / CZ DEFENCE
The magic phrase in the defence industry is the concept of "industrial cooperation" and for the state enterprise LOM PRAHA the cooperation that has been running recently within the H-1 project with Bell Textron Inc. is important. "Industrial cooperation started a few years ago with the signing of five agreements," says Protiva, adding that over time a sixth has been added. "The way the cooperation is done is that we map out the development of cooperation in different areas in each agreement. Two agreements are focused on training our technicians in America. These are absolutely the most important for us right now. Other agreements concern, for example, the issue of development and production of specific products that should be manufactured here in the Czech Republic. And then, for example, there is an agreement concerning other equipment for the facilities that LOM PRAHA will need in order to be able to meet the requirements of the Czech Army in the H-1 life cycle," says the director of Protiva.
An important milestone of cooperation with the army is, among other things, the transfer of the simulator for Venom and Viper helicopters to the prepared facility of the air base in Náměšt'. "The simulator has already been assembled in our hall and is starting to be completed. Currently, the simulator is being built with the expectation that it will be put into live operation in the middle of the year," says Protiva, who believes that this project is a prime example of cooperation and interconnection with the Czech Armed Forces. The state-owned company has extensive experience with simulation technologies.
The company also includes the Centre for Aviation Training (CLV), which is based in Pardubice. According to the experience of our pilots and technicians from the H-1 project in the USA, about 50% of the time was spent on simulators. According to Jiri Protiva, it is also a question of efficiency. According to him, CLV with its simulation technologies is more efficient than when the machine takes off into the air. "In our Flight Training Centre we also provide simulation technologies for training, which is efficient in the sense that it not only saves money, but you can train more efficiently on simulators, with the fact that we also have a tactical simulation centre (TSC) where pilots do not learn to fly, but to fight, which of course also contributes to improving the qualification of soldiers," explains Director Protiva.
In this context, we asked about the supposedly temporary relocation of the Flight Training Centre from Pardubice to Přerov, which took place in February and should last until May this year. The explanation is simple: 'There is a closure at Pardubice airport, so we will not be able to fly and train from Pardubice airport. For this reason we have moved to two locations. Together with the jet aircraft we moved to the airport in Čáslav. The helicopters, whether they are M-17s or Enstroms, have moved to the Přerov airport, where we are conducting training that would otherwise take place in Pardubice. We are thinking ahead that Přerov could develop in this direction in the future as requirements increase. Pardubice as such will not be enough and we will have to think about other locations. And I think that CLV in Přerov could be an interesting place where training could continue in the future," plans the director of LOM Praha.
There is an increasing emphasis on new technologies in flight training. In this context, LOM PRAHA's subsidiary VR Group's focus on the development and installation of such technologies is certainly an advantage. The CLV can thus operate training facilities for the L-39, L-159, Gripen and F-16. "Even since we have concluded a purchase agreement for the L-39NG, we will be adding a simulator for this new type of subsonic aircraft. VR Group is important to us in terms of linking capabilities and capabilities," Protiva says. According to him, it is an exemplary combination of the capabilities of the different entities not only in the acquisition of the simulation equipment, but also in its maintenance and development. After all, new technologies and virtual services are a challenge for LOM PRAHA in the future. Currently, it has been entrusted with a contract to build a virtual recruitment centre. Mastering the virtual world is generally one of the new capabilities of armies. "We are moving into this area of the virtual world, and these are the trends we obviously want to continue to address. These are projects like the virtual recruiting center or even expanding the capabilities that can be offered in CLV within virtual reality. These are all things that we are working on hand in hand with the VR Group and we want to offer them primarily to the Czech Army. Supply meets demand, because the army is following similar trends," reveals Protiva. However, he excludes that LOM PRAHA will deviate from its original assignment. "The repair activity is definitely predominant. But we are trying to gradually increase the share in other projects. However, we are still with the repair and service activities," confirms the director.
What has literally shot the state enterprise LOM PRAHA into the ranks of successful defence industry enterprises is the mastery of the new orientation from the eastern to the western platform. According to Jiří Protiva, this 180-degree turn is a reaction to the trends and times we live in. "Generally speaking, LOM PRAHA would have to transform like this at some point. Of course, the ongoing war conflict in Ukraine is accelerating this process. I think that a state enterprise should be very flexible in this respect. Another factor that plays a role in this is, for example, the fact that we have to realise that state-owned enterprises will not always be financed 100 per cent every year by the Czech Army. This is a fact and it is necessary for SOEs to adapt to this situation and look for new customers, new portfolios," Protiva said. The war in Ukraine is an opportunity and a lesson for many companies.
"I try to show, even from my previous work, that state-owned enterprises are not just some socialist molochs, but that a state-owned enterprise can also be a modern company with something to offer. As far as SOEs as such are concerned, it is important to realise that it is a nexus of capabilities. If you look at the structure of SOEs, it is the provision of capabilities from research, development, production, repair to testing, if not liquidation. And we need to keep that in Czech hands. However, it also needs to be said that state-owned enterprises do not have the competence to do everything, and therefore we need to cooperate with the defence and security industry. And this is very important," says director Jiří Protiva, for whom linking the capabilities of the defence industry in the Czech Republic is a vision.
In this context, cooperation with universities, especially technical universities, is also important. "Practical cooperation is implemented not only with the University of Defence, but also currently with the Czech Technical University. Now we have signed a memorandum with the University of Pardubice, with the Jan Perner Transport Faculty. We have to use the universities from the point of view that they have a slightly different perspective and can bring many innovative ideas and themes that can then translate very well into industrial cooperation," says Jiří Protiva, director of the state enterprise LOM PRAHA.
If you are interested in our full interview with Jiří Protiva, in which we further discuss the acquisition of new L-39NGs for pilot training, the planned cooperation with Lockheed Martin or upcoming projects of LOM PRAHA, please watch the video at the beginning of this article.