Minister of Defence Cernochová: Priority is to equip the 7th Mechanized Brigade with appropriate equipment and number of people
The new Minister of Defence, Jana Černochová, visited the 7th Mechanised Brigade in Hranice today, where she got acquainted with the equipment, current tasks and plans of the brigade for 2022 as well as the base's real infrastructure. During her visit, Černochová also commented on the current tender for new IFVs and the brigade's manning levels.
Regarding the procurement of new IFVs, Černochová said that she is still familiarising herself with the history of the contract, which dates back to 2013. This week, discussions have reportedly been held with Army representatives and the deputy for the management of the armaments and acquisitions section of the MoD, Lubor Koudelka, on what alternatives are available in the tender. Černochová learned that the tender eliminated bids, not bidders, which means that new bids may be priced differently than the original bids received from the bidders, which has implications for the state budget.
Following a recent press conference by the Minister of Finance, it was stated that the budget must include funds for contracts that are certain to be implemented in the financial year. It is therefore not possible to create virtual funds for contracts that are not contracted.
Ms. Černochová also mentioned that more funds would need to be spent in operating expenses and highlighted the need to support the recruitment of new soldiers after seeing the actual number of soldiers compared to the table positions. "One soldier recruited costs CZK 1 million and we have to have those funds in the budget and if I get assurances from the representatives of the General Staff and the Secretary of State that we can do well in recruitment, then I will fight to have more of those funds because what would the army be without quality people and quality equipment."
Černochová said that the next step in the tender for the new IFV is a clear legal analysis. "All the companies that entered the tender have already invested considerable funds, in the order of tens to hundreds of millions of crowns, and if we make the wrong decision at this current imaginary crossroads, it could cost the Czech Republic a lot of money in arbitrations," Černochová said. She also mentioned that surely everyone understands that she has only been the Defence Minister for three weeks and the contract for the new IFV has been in place since 2013, so it cannot be expected that she will or will not sign the contract within a few hours or weeks. So more time and opinion of reputed law firms is needed.
Černochová is also well aware that some of her colleagues in the Ministry of Defence have been in the process of acquiring new IFVs for a long time and would like to acquire new IFVs already, but according to Černochová, these colleagues may not be aware of some of the consequences in terms of budget or criminal liability. "It is necessary to look at the whole event with unbiased eyes. As a politician, I will bear full responsibility for which option I choose, but I must have realistic documents on the table and I must know what it will cost," Černochová said.
Asked whether the tender will be closed this year, Černochová replied, "If we were to ask all the suppliers again tomorrow all 9,000 questions that have been asked, we would probably agree that this number is time-consuming (3 months). In addition, it might happen that some suppliers will not answer some questions. So I cannot answer at the moment whether the tender could be implemented this year. That is why I have an agreement with the Minister of Finance that if the contract could be implemented, the Ministry of Defence will receive funds outside the budget framework."
It has also been said that by eliminating the bids, the companies are no longer bound by the original prices they initially gave in the tender (about CZK 54 billion), which are figures from 5-6 years ago. Given the current prices, which have gone up, the shortage of various raw materials and the situation around COVID-19, then, according to Černochová, one can expect the bid prices to become more expensive.
During her visit, the new Defence Minister confirmed the need for both the IFVs and tanks, with Černochová saying that it is not possible to modernize old Soviet machines indefinitely. "We want to recruit soldiers who want to use 21st century equipment. So the priority is to equip the 7th Mechanized Brigade with the appropriate equipment and number of people," Černochová said. She added that she does not lack the courage to make some decisions, but she must be sure that if she decides to do something, she will not cause more damage than if she had made a different choice.
Černochová also said that she and her colleagues are discussing the issue of a new Public Procurement Act or modifying certain passages that would facilitate the situation so that acquisitions do not take 8-10 years and that processing occurs optimally in one electoral period.
In the context of the commitments to NATO, the Minister expressed that she would do everything possible to ensure that the commitments to the Alliance, but also to our country (which is also the content of the strategic documents), are fulfilled.
In conclusion, the Minister wished the 7th Mechanised Brigade good luck, not only in foreign operations, and highlighted the friendliness and sincerity of the members of the Brigade whom she met today. She also appreciated that no one "paints reality in different colours" and assured all present that she has the advantage of having been in the area for some time and therefore no one has to pretend.