The defence of the country is not just a matter for the Army, but for society as a whole
On Tuesday, the Command Assembly of the Army of the Czech Republic defined specific tasks of the Army, both in the short and long term. The Chief of the General Staff of the Czech Armed Forces, Major General Karel Řehka, welcomed the Commander-in-Chief of the Czech Armed Forces, President Miloš Zeman, Prime Minister Petr Fiala, and Defence Minister Jana Černochová, thanking them all for their support of the Army. "Europe and our republic are in a difficult period. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has completely changed the security situation. The war in Europe has once again become a reality and is taking place on the very border of the North Atlantic Alliance. Conflicts are recurring with iron regularity. Eternal peace is a utopia," General Rehka stated at the very beginning of his speech.
According to the Chief of the General Staff, Europe has long allowed itself to be cajoled into believing that no conflict will occur and has underestimated the warning period that has been running since at least 2014 after the annexation of Crimea. "But Western societies didn't want to see it, and they didn't want to listen to those who saw it. We hoped that everything would eventually calm down. But hope is not a strategy," Řehka said. That's why the biggest rearmament of the military in the country's history is no longer a wish, but an absolute necessity. The support of the political representation as well as the trust of society are important foundations for change, according to the general. "The Army needs to have the trust of society. Without it, it is nothing. It is not a starting point, but a condition for our work. After all, the defence of the country is not only a matter for the Army, but for the whole society," General Řehka said. "I don't want to call anything, but if there is a clash between Russia and the Alliance, our country will be affected immediately. The Army will be an active participant from the first minute. The territory of the Czech Republic, our infrastructure and our fellow citizens will be the target of hostile action in all domains. It is also worth bearing in mind that many of the weapons systems that are destroying Ukraine today will also reach our territory. The situation is serious and we must respond," the Chief of General Staff warned.
In his speech, Gen. Řehka presented the key tasks for 2023, when the main task is combat capability, and thus it is necessary to maintain the maximum level of combat capability and readiness of the Army. It is the highest task of the army for the next year as well. To meet this goal, Řehka then outlined five priority areas:
Military defence review
Scenarios and our defense plans must be reviewed to see if they are realistic and match the current situation and resources. The military must be ready to respond here and now.
We must develop a vision of future warfare for the Army of the Czech Republic
Similar efforts are underway in the Alliance. If we are already deciding today on the acquisition of weapon systems for the next 40 years, it is imperative to have a good idea of how we will fight the war. That is why I have established a Future Warfare Council with a number of working teams. We are working intensively on this and I expect a result by the middle of next year.
It is necessary to accelerate the modernization of all functions of the Army on the battlefield
We need to modernize command and control, fire support intelligence and information, maneuver, force protection, or sustainability. This is far from just modernising for future warfare, as is the case with fifth-generation aircraft. Often the Army is catching up with what it needed long ago. Whether it is new infantry fighting vehicles, guns, tanks, helicopters, logistics vehicles or individual equipment. It's no longer enough to just patch patches and catch up on backlogs. Now we need to catch up fast. "We, the military, must do everything we can to take advantage of the current will to invest in defense. But at the same time, we must strictly isolate priorities to be effective. Because the truth is that even now, despite the budget increase, we will not have enough resources to ideally solve all the problems," General Řehka outlined.
We need to focus on the people
People are everything, it is they who win wars, not weapons, the Chief of General Staff warned in his speech. "The current personnel model is unsustainable. The army is not filled. It is ageing and needs to be changed systemically. At this moment, we are already assessing the situation in great detail with our colleagues from the Ministry of Defence and we are preparing concrete steps for improvement," he said. But there is no magic recipe. It requires hard work, he said. From the acquisition of quality equipment and training to a healthy organisational culture and quality facilities. All of this, the general said, also applies to active reserve and career soldiers. "This is the most important challenge in the long term," Řehka emphasized.
It is necessary to cultivate a strategic discussion on the defence of the Czech Republic
The Chief of General Staff stressed that the Army does not mind criticism. On the contrary, criticism pushes it further. "But we also need a serious debate on the country's defence and security. Let us stop making so much of the public debate about how many vehicles the brigade should have, what kind of cannon they will have and which company will supply them. Let's talk much more about what the brigades will be for. Who is our adversary? What is the real threat? What do we need to defend ourselves? How are we going to mobilize society in a crisis? And do we have all the legislation to do it?" the general specified. An important parameter for the success of the functioning of defence is not only the armed forces, but the support of the whole society. And here, according to Rehka, we can take an example from Ukraine. "I brought back from there two big lessons for our country and for our Army. The first lesson is that Ukrainians did not automatically get the support of the West, but they won it. They were ready, they showed determination, they stood up to the resistance and they achieved success. They were able to convince us of their just cause, of their determination and that it was in our interest to support them. The second lesson is that Ukraine is defended by the whole of society. It has values that it holds dear, that it agrees on and that it is willing to fight for. The lesson for us is that we can't just rely on someone to come to our aid if we don't do our best to do it ourselves in the first place," the general said. Řehka said the relationship between the military and society needs to be developed and strengthened. It also shows how important our membership in the North Atlantic Alliance and the European Union is. Their cohesion is in the vital interest of the Czech Republic.
President Miloš Zeman then reminded the Commanders' Assembly of the Czech Armed Forces that this is his last visit to this Assembly as Commander-in-Chief of the Czech Armed Forces. In his balance speech, he recalled the need for sustainability of spending at the 2% GDP limit, the experience from missions that can bring the necessary experience back to the professional army. "I am not saying that our Army should be significantly expeditionary. I acknowledge the principle of territorial defence, but if we share responsibility as members of the North Atlantic Alliance for the world's security and not only for our own, then the participation of our soldiers in these missions is irreplaceable," the President said. He has also repeatedly criticised the Alliance's withdrawal from Afghanistan and considers it a defeat and a surrender. He also recalled his recommendations on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in the armament of the Armed Forces of the Czech Republic, which, according to the President, have proved their worth in the defence of Ukraine. Finally, he reiterated that, apart from the war in Ukraine, there is still another enemy, and that is international terrorism.
According to Prime Minister Fiala, from the beginning the government has emphasised the modernisation of the armed forces and ensuring adequate resources. "These are commitments that we put in our programme declaration," the prime minister said. Their concrete form was translated by Minister Černochová into the Ten Commandments for Defence. From the beginning, the government is also counting on fulfilling its promise to invest two per cent of GDP in defence annually. "I confirm our intention to achieve two per cent of defence spending, that we want to achieve two per cent of defence spending already in 2024. One of the goals of these investments is the rapid completion of acquisitions," emphasised Petr Fiala. According to him, the war in Ukraine has had many negative effects, and if it has brought anything positive at all, it is finding unity among Western countries and strengthening the operational capacity of our international institutions. He also highlighted the actions of the North Atlantic Alliance on the eastern border and recalled our command of the Multinational Battle Group in Slovakia.
Czech Defence Minister Jana Černochová followed up on Prime Minister Fiala's speech by saying that this December the Army is to receive the first of the promised German Leopard 2 tanks. Success on the battlefield, however, does not only come from new technological solutions in one of the areas, but also from the skilful use of available resources in all five combat domains, and the further development of the Czech army must correspond to this. "On the battlefield of the future, alongside drones, not only armoured vehicles in the form of tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, but also light infantry forces equipped with the most advanced weapon systems that will give them unprecedented lethality will have their place," she added. She also said the state must not only have adequate quantities of weapons and ammunition ready, but must also have the capability to produce some of these weapons and ammunition and to service them. The Minister also recalled one parallel, namely Czechoslovakia's assistance to the newly emerging Republic of Israel. "It was based on three pillars – the supply of weapons and ammunition, the training of Israeli soldiers by the Czechoslovak army and a civil fundraising campaign in favour of the State of Israel, which incidentally raised 30 million Czechoslovak crowns," the Minister added.
Picture: At the press conference, the Chief of the General Staff reminded that the Czech Republic's commitment of 2% of GDP for defence spending is a very important moment, but it cannot be a one-off. | Jan Zilvar / CZ DEFENCE
At the press conference, the Chief of the General Staff also reminded that the Czech Republic's commitment of 2% of GDP for defence spending is a very important moment, but it cannot be a one-off. It is a continuous building of a combat-ready army. According to Gen. Rehka is for the next crisis. "It will come in some 15 years. We should have invested for this crisis 15 years ago and kept the level of spending.
If we really want to invest in our defense, we need to do it steadily and we need to do it for the long term. I am very happy that the will is there and that society supports us," emphasized Chief of General Staff Karel Řehka.