Czech army leader calls for ‘biggest rearmament of the army in the country’s history’

Major General Karel Řehka, Chief of the General Staff of the Czech Republic Army 2

Major General Karel Řehka, Chief of the General Staff of the Czech Republic Army, addresses the Command Assembly in Prague. (Czech Army)

DUBLIN — In a remarkable speech in Prague today, the Czech Republic’s most senior army leader demanded, as an “absolute necessity.” that the service embarks on its “biggest rearmament” ever.

Major General Karel Řehka, chief of the General Staff of the Czech Republic Army, told delegates at the Command Assembly convened to announce the army’s strategic and procurement plans for 2023 that “serious challenges await us,” as he reflected on the “crisis” in Ukraine.

“The biggest rearmament of the army in the country’s history is no longer just a wish, but an absolute necessity,” Řehka said.

Russia’s actions have left the Czech Army with many urgent tasks that can no longer be postponed, he said, before unveiling a five point plan covering long-term priorities.

The plan involves a defense review, which Řehka confirmed is already underway; a vision for army future warfare; equipment modernization projects being accelerated (notably command and control, intelligence, fires and force protection); changes to the army’s current personnel plan described as “unsustainable” and a debate about the future security priorities of the Czech Republic more generally.

“If we are already deciding today on the acquisition of weapons platforms for the next 40 years, it is absolutely necessary to have a good idea of ​​how we will fight,” Řehka said, according to a transcript of the speech posted on the army’s website. “That’s why I set up my Future Warfare Council with a number of task forces. We are working on it intensively and I expect the final output by the middle of next year.”

Remarking on the state of procurement, he said that the country too often plays “catch up” on acquiring equipment that was needed much sooner — including tanks, helicopters, logistics vehicles and guns.

In July, Prague announced it had started negotiations for CV90 Infantry Fighting Vehicles and F-35 fifth-generation fighter jets with the Swedish and United States governments respectively. The CV90 partnership with Sweden follows a prolonged effort to acquire over 200 new IFVs which saw Prague cancel a prior tender after two of three industry bidders removed their proposals. Up to 24 F-35s are due to be ordered as a replacement for Saab JAS 39 Gripens.

“We soldiers must do everything we can to take advantage of the current societal will to invest in defense. But at the same time, we must strictly prioritize and be brutally efficient,” he added. “The truth is that even now, despite the huge increase in the budget, we will not have enough resources for an ideal solution to all problems.”

Prague’s defense budget is set to increase “by a quarter” over the 2022 figure next year, with plans to move to a target of 2 percent GDP thereafter, said Jana Černochová, Czech Republic Minister of Defense, also during the Command Assembly.

She vowed that her department will better support the Czech Republic’s domestic defense industry and commended the efforts of the Czech armed forces in leading NATO’s Battle Group in Slovakia.

The alliance established four additional multinational battlegroups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a way to strengthen Eastern flank deterrence.

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