The Croatian Firefighter Task Force - experienced and prepared for any task The Croatian Defence…
The 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Croatian Air Force and Air Defence interview with its Commander Brigadier General Miroslav Kovač. A helicopter pilot during the Homeland War himself, with over 400 flying hours logged in operational tasks in a year, is a most valuable communicator. We however discussed mostly the presence and future of the service, undergoing or facing important equipment and modernisation projects and the building of new capablities.
Is the year 1991 and the war-time establishment of the Croatian Air Force – a technically sophisticated service a unique story?
Each case is a story in itself. We established the air force in the early days of the Homeland War from scratch, we only had recreational and training aircraft at our disposal which we equipped with armed systems by ourselves. We had to be resourceful. Only after receiving the MiG-21 fighter aircraft and Mi-24 combat helicopters we became an air force capable of performing combat tasks. We mustn’t leave out the invaluable contribution by the pilots and air technicians of the flying clubs and those who left the JNA. We witnessed an atmosphere of togetherness, patriotism and resoluteness in the defence of the Republic of Croatia. Put differently, from a small group of brave and patriotic airmen we created an air force which protected and defended the Croatian airspace.
I believe strongly that upon the acquisition of new and western-made assets – primarily new fighter aircraft – the Croatian Air Force and Air Defence will assume new strength as a guarantee of security and sovereignty of the airspace. I am therefore expressing special respects and appreciation to all who have contributed to the growth of the Croatian Air Force – the retired and active members alike but mostly to the members sacrifying their lives.
Which wartime operations you are most proud of?
We demonstrated the power first in the military and police operation “Lightning“ and to a full swing in the Operation “Storm“. However, I must recall here the first actions by the Independent Air Platoon Osijek flying the An-2 aircraft in the Vukovar battlefield, as well as the actions by the Independent Air Platoon Split performed by An-2 in the Dalmatian hinterland. One of the first combat actions by MiGs-21 was conducted in the Dubrovnik battlefield, followed by the operations “South Move“, “Maslenica“, “Maestral“, “Ljeto 95“ (Summer 95). I remember the accounts by the members of the Army units, praising the encouraging presence of the Croatian aircraft, knowing that they were there to neutralise the hardest firing enemy posts.
The post-war mission of the Croatian Air Force and Air Defence was about the international operations and missions. What was their importance?
We have been present in KFOR since 2009, in rotations with 20 members and two helicopters, and have also assigned personnel to the KFOR Command.
The co-operation with the air forces of our allies and partners in various tasks and exercises have brought us valuable international operation experience and upgraded our interoperability on SOPs prescribed by NATO doctrines. The members of the Croatian Air Force are permanently ready, regardless of the type of tasks, the conditions and the readiness level. I need to say that our know-how, effort and the assets have eaned us great respect in KFOR.
On the other hand, our members served individually in ISAF, and since 2010 we have deployed air training teams too, which successfully trained over 400 Afghan pilots and technicians. Our engagement in ISAF has integrated us stronger with the allied countries, particularly the United States, the Czech Republic and Hungary. The co-ioperation reflects in the establishment of the International Aviation Training Centre. The joint operation with the allies within Smart Defence enables us to share the knowledge and uprade the respective capabilities levels.
Is there room for further development of the Centre?
Last autumn saw the signind of an international agreement whereby Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia established a Centre and Direction in Vyškovo in Slovakia.. The Centre hasn’t been endorsed as NATO centre yet but will be prospectively.The value of the project is proved by the catalogue of training capabilities offered by each member country. The Croatian Air Force has proved its quality through the administration of the training of the members of the Royal Air Force of Oman at Zemunik, and is currently training the third generation.
The training content quality and respected timelines have earned us the request from Oman for the training of a fourth generation and the queries from the countries from southeast Asia and from Europe too.
The Croatian Air Force and Air Defence is permanently integrated into NATO structure?
I think it is both to our and NATO’s benefit. Through NATO’s Integrated Air Defence System (NATINADS) we are connected with the Combined Air Operations Centre in Torrejon (Spain) on a 24/7 basis for 365 days a year. The interceptions performed so far have been successful and demonstrated high efficiency of our air guard pair on duty and of the Croatian Air Force and Air Defence’s Air Space Control Centre. We have to mention here our members serving in NATO commands, who take an active part in the processes and activities which direct the tasks of the Croatian Air Force and Air Defence as well.
The Fighter Aircraft Squadron has intensified its activity over the past months?.
The public is familiar with the fact that the fighter aircraft have recently been overhauled, but they are of an older date and we cannot expect them to function as the new models. Nonetheless, I would like to emphasise that the fair level of airworthiness of the MiG-21 fleet, meeting NATO standards, owes much to the increased engagement of our aircraft technicians. The high usability of the fighter aircraft, enabled us to upgrade the level of preparedness and trainedness of our crews and to train new fighter pilots, after a considerable lapse of time.
We are very proud that they were trained by the instructors trained entirely in Croatia.
In the course of 2016 we trained two test pilots and conducted a successful training and live-fie aerial target exercise. The maintenance of the required level of airworthiness and the intensified flying will enable us to conduct a 24-hour duty in the control and protection of airspace.
We must touch on the acquisition of a new model of fighter aircraft. While the decision is beyond the responsibility of the Croatian Air Force and Air Defence, does it have a say?
The competence of the members of the Air Force and Air Defence,has provided a major contribution to the teamwhich composed the the Study of Development and Capavbility of Airspace Protection by Multi-purpose Fighter Aircraft. The decision was announced for late 2016, but my view is that some processes should not be precipitated. More to the point, the making of a decision of such importance for the Croatian Air Force and Air Defence requires a meticulous approach.
Although the existing aircraft resources will expire within a relatively short time – in the year 2024, we still have time to mke a sound and well-elaborated decision.
On the other hand, it takes the consensus at the hightest state level and a public consensus as well. In my view, it is vital to keep the fighter aircraft component, because once lost it is hardly restored or ever restored at all, mostly due to the attrition of the personnel and inability to compensate it with new within a resonable time frame. I am convinced that our allies and partners appreciate us based on our strength and capability.
What is the value of the acquisition of the Kiowa Warrior helicopters for the Croatian Air Force and Air Defence?
We are not only to receive the helicopters themselves, as they will restore our capability of combat operation which we have lost due to the withdrawal of Mi-24 helicopters from service. Secondly, the scope of our tasks will expand, primarily the capability of support to the Army forces and the Special Operations forces. Thirdly, the Kiowa Helicopters are of western origin, and ensure us the interoperability with our allies. Finally, the introduction of new assets will impart new momentum and new professional motive to master new challenge for the pilots and air technician personnel alike.
What is the Kiowa Warrior helicopter reception timeline?
In August we received five aircraft and three simulators, and the remaining eleven arrived in December. We have reorganised the 93rd Air Base and its Rotary Wing Squadron accordingly and trained new personnel to operate the Bell 206B helicopters to facilitate the subsequent conversion to Kiowas. We haven’t initiated training processes for Kiowas so far, as we expect the U.S. partner to agree with the contractors assigned with the training itself. The latest information suggest that it could commence soon. We are ready, as we were in August as well. The initial capability will be achieved by late July. We committed to train a specified number of pilots on Kiowa helicopters and their weapons systems in all conditions and plan to display the newly acquired capabilities in the last quarter of 2017, at a live-fire military exercise.
The multi-purpose Mi-171Sh helicopters are to be overhauled prospectively?
The Defence Commitee of the Croatian Parliament at its session of 9 November 2016 approved the overhaul of ten Mi-171 Sh helicopters, to be followed by the public procurement and contracting procedures, which could take from three to six months, but what is certain is that the overhaul has been assigned to a firm certified by the manufacturer. We expect the first two helicopters to be completed by September 2017 at the latest, and two more each two months.
The Long-term Development Plan outlines the acquisition of an aircraft for tactical airlift and paratrooper training by 2020. How is the project progressing?
First of all I need to underline that the process is within the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence. The Ministry received several offers for delivery of the tactical airlift and paratrooper training from the interested manufacturers, which we analysed but haven’t opted for the exact model and on its utility at the moment. I don’t think it is wise to consider procuring fighter aircraft, combat helicopters, western-produced transport helicopters and transport aircraft: we need to define priorities, and the procurement of fighter aircraft certainly is one.
The Long-term Development Plan also stipulates modernisation of the FPS-117 and the procurement of a mid-range air defence battery by late 2024. The FPS 117 radar system modernisation implies the replacement of the existing configuration from the software packaqe acquired with the radars with the new configuration (namely Block III programme).
The ultimate goal is to obtain more data (the type and so on, in addition to the position and direction of the aircraft within the radar range).
As for the air defence system, it will require a political decision, but in my view a system of the kind would significantly upgrade the system and add new dimension to the defence of the Croatian airspace.
On the eve of the 25th anniversary of the establishment and operation of the Croatian Air Force and Air Defence, I would like to extend sincere appreciation to all the contributors to its successes, development and growth, and pay tribute to the fallen and deceased members, who have left a lasting mark in the hearts of all members of the Croatian Air Force and Air Defence and in its history. My congratulations go to all those who devoted their professional lives to the Croatian Air Force and Air Defence in war and in peacetime, to all those who have guarded the Croatian airspace for 25 years for the many successes and achievements. Some six to seven years ago we were faced with stagnating turnover but now we are training double-digit numbers of cadets per generation. The initial capability is to be achieved by late July 2017. We committed to train a specified number of pilots on Kiowa helicopters and their weapons systems in all conditions and plan to display the newly acquired capabilities in the last quarter of 2017, at a live-fire military exercise.