Mechanized Forces and new Armored Personnel Carriers are the Slovakian MoD's top priority [Interview]

Róbert Ondrejcsák the secretary of state in MoD talks about the strategic priorities of Slovakian MoD, potential industrial cooperation with Poland and the role of cyberspace in the interview for

Dr Andrzej Kozłowski: Slovakia decided to increase the capabilities of the army after the years reductions. What are the main strategic aims of Slovakian armed forces and what are the steps taken to strengthen the defence capabilities?

Róbert Ondrejcsák: The most important goal at the level of armed forces is to reequip mechanized brigade, which is the most important contribution of Slovakia to NATO collective defence. There is a necessity to equip it with newly purchased armoured personnel carrier (APC) vehicles and other equipment. At the level of the air force,  we are in the process of modernization of transport and helicopters fleet. The first of US-Supplied Black Hawks will be delivered this year and we are facing decision about the future of the supersonic jet capability where we would like to reequip one wing. We have been still operating the Soviet MiG 29 and we would like to replace them.

According to the White Paper, Slovakia is going to increase its engagement in NATO. How does Bratislava want to achieve it?

The war in Ukraine is the main reason for our increased engagement. Basically it is not even about higher engagement. It is about the way of engagement. So we are still keeping presence in Afghanistan and NATO's mission in Afghanistan where we have 66 soldiers. However, in accordance with NATO overall policy changes we are focusing more on territorial defence. During the second quarter of 2017 we are sending about 150 troops to the Baltics to Latvia. We also are now discussing about the future, particularly how to be part of this so called Enhanced Forward Presence.

What is the position of Slovakia on the V4 battle group?

It is quite significant force in the first half of 2016 and we fully support that idea of offering V4 battle group to EU in 2019 again and contribution will be again significant so of course we don’t have so far the details, which country will contribute with what kind of forces but we have a very strong political will to be part of it.

If we are discussing political will. The Slovakian government sometimes criticizes EU sanctions on Russia. However, in the White Paper there is a clear statement mentioning Russian actions against Ukraine as the largest threat to Slovakia, or one of the largest. Are  you going support and contribute the strengthening of the NATO Eastern Flank?

As I mentioned we are sending around 150 troops to Latvia this year for three months and it is in coordination with others partner on the V4. So the during the first quarter the presence is being done by Czechs. Our forces will be deployed during the second quarter and then Poland and Hungary will follow so this is the most important contribution to strengthen the Eastern Flank. Now we are discussing about engagement in 2018 Enhanced Forward Presence and of course we are modifying our strategy, in accordance with the evolution of threats emerging from the Eastern Flank. The modernization plans of the Slovakian Armed Forces are not only about increasing the capability of Slovakia Air Force or Armed Forces but also we consider it as modernization or strengthening of NATO itself.

If we are talking about modernization I would like to ask how you asses the military and industrial cooperation within the V4 group and especially with Poland.

There is certain potential in this area but the real cooperation in defence industries is much lower. There are different reasons. One of those reasons are the differences in priorities of V4 member countries, and also in the size and the scope of defence industries of particular countries. Poland, due to its quite substantial capabilities, is a category of itself. We cannot compare the Polish defence industrial complex to Slovak, Czech or Hungarian. Hungarian capabilities are quite limited. Czech Republic and Slovakia have certain military experiences but now those capabilities are incomparable with Poland.

So how can we deepen this cooperation and use experience of Poland and Polish capabilities for other V4 partners?

It is quite difficult to use Polish experience because Poland is a completely different category. Even so we can cooperate but the experience of Poland is completely different than the situation we are in. However see some potential for very well defined projects.

Could you mention, where do you see the potential?

There are a lot of modernisation programs. We are waiting to define, where the cooperation could prove effective. We will see.

According to the White Paper, two battalions of the new mechanized brigade are to be equipped with new armored personnel carriers. Does Slovakia consider the purchase of Polish Rosomak APC?

We are not in the stage, where we will be able to say which type of carriers will be purchased. We will buy some but there is no one yet who will be the partner in this process.  I would like to highlight that the purchase of the armoured personnel carriers is currently the most important armed modernization program for the armed forces.

What types of other carriers are you taking into account, except for Rosomak?

I cannot make any binding statement now but probably there will be an open competition and everybody who manufactures products like this can apply or enter competition. Thus there is impossible to name all possible producers, which are able to produce those systems.

Sir, earlier you have mentioned modernization of the Air Forces. What options do you consider as future the multi-role fighter jet?

Like in previous case, the competition is basically open. We are assessing different options but everybody who is able to fulfil the criteria can enter the competition. We don’t have exclusive partners. Of course, there are negotiations with Swedish partners on Gripen but there are also other options on the table.

You mentioned Gripen. Some time ago Slovakia has been said to aiming to join the Gripen program in cooperation with Czech Republic.

Long time ago Czech Republic bought Gripen so if I am not mistaken Czechs had Gripen fleet for approximate decade and we are just now considering to enter to this process. As I said, there are other options on the table.

Slovakia decided to replace the short and medium air defence system. The similar process is taking place now in Poland, Czech Republic and Lithuania. Do you think it may be an area of regional cooperation?

If you are able to find a common ground about criteria the devil is always in details. This category can mean a lot of things. These can be completely different systems and there are not among the most important priorities now.

Do you think it is possible to achieve the level of GDP 1,6% for defence in 2020 and later GDP 2%?

We still have the international commitment, which was based on government decision and which president Kiska confirmed on NATO summit so nobody can resign from this commitment. I believe that we will be very close to this 1.6 % of GDP into 2020.

The former commanders and representatives of opposition participated in the developing of the White Paper. What was their role?

There were some consultations with NGOs and opposition representatives on the priorities of this document. So it was the process to find some common ground and strategic goal of the country.

According to the White Paper, the role of cybercapabilities is quite important.  What do you want to achieve in the cyber domain from military point of view?

In Slovakia the cybersecurity is not only the domain of armed forces. We have also different institutions like National Security Bureau and others, which are dealing with this matter. Thus the first thing is to have effective coordination with different bodies who are dealing with this issue and if you ask me about the goals we want to achieve they have certain capabilities which will allow us to react on cyberthreats more effectively than in the past.

Andrzej Kozlowski: Sir, Thank you for the interview.

Róbert Ondrejcsák - State Secretary in Ministry of Defence of Slovakia