On the day of the international recognition of the Republic of Croatia a third of…
Ahead of the 5th edition of the Adriatic Sea Defense and Aerospace (ASDA) exhibition and demonstration, which will be held in Split from 10th to 12th April 2019, we spoke with Assistant Defence Minister for Material Resources Roman Mikulić about his expectations of the exhibition, its importance for the Croatian defence industry and the potential it has to offer. The interview also touched upon other important topics and plans lying ahead of the Ministry of Defence and the Croatian Armed Forces in terms of equipping and modernization.
How much is the Ministry of Defence involved in the organization of the Adriatic Sea Defense and Aerospace (ASDA) exhibition in Split?
The Ministry of Defence bears the responsibility for the organization and execution of ASDA. It acts as the main co-ordinator and the mediator between numerous other participants who share equal responsibility for the success of such an event. I must stress our long-time collaboration with American company TNT Productions, LLC, our partners which is organizing this exhibition in Split with us for the fifth time. That company is a world-renowned organizer of international fairs, exhibitions and conferences in many fields of enterprise. It is a member of the Society of Independent Show Organizers (SUSO) and UFI – The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry. With its immeasurable knowledge and experience, it has contributed to the importance and respect that this exhibition enjoys in the world.
What is the future of exhibitions dedicated to the military industry in the Republic of Croatia? Will ASDA continue to take place in Croatia?
Seeing as how the defence industry in the Republic of Croatia has a huge potential to step out into the demanding world market, it is the duty and commitment of the Ministry of Defence, headed by Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Damir Krstičević, to support it as it unleashes its potential. In that sense, the need for future exhibitions dedicated to the military industry ought to be taken into consideration. ASDA has made a name for itself among similar events worldwide. When responding to the invitation to the exhibition in Split, many state and military officials from partner and friendly countries underlined that they had already saved the date for it in their calendars, which speaks volumes about its recognisability. It is in our best interest to continue such successful collaboration with all participants involved in the organization of ASDA. The negotiations are on-going.
How can the Republic of Croatia and the Ministry of Defence profit from an exhibition such as ASDA?
For me, the biggest contributions are the promotion and affirmation of Croatian manufacturers of weapons and military equipment on the international scene; the contribution of the Ministry of Defence and the Croatian Armed Forces to the economic development on the Republic of Croatia; the introduction to newly-developed defence systems in the field of homeland security and military technology; the promotion of military calling and education; and, the last but not the last, the development and strengthening of our collaboration with friendly and partner countries. We ought not forget the contribution of this event to Croatian tourism and Split. Not only is a large number of tourist days recorded, but the tourist offer is expanded and enriched because of it.
How many companies are expected at ASDA? How many companies have confirmed their participation? Will any companies make their debut at this year’s exhibition?
So far, 162 domestic and foreign companies from 26 countries have confirmed their participation at the exhibition. Some of the larger are more notable companies are Saab from Sweden, Lockheed Martin and Bell from the USA, Thales from France, Mercedes-Benz Defence Vehicles from Germany, Aeronautics Ltd., Elbit Systems and Rafael from Israel as well as Hiab from the Netherlands. So far, 64 domestic companies have registered for the exhibition. Their great interest justifies the existence of ASDA.
The worldwide circulation of weapons is on the increase… How od Croatian companies fit into that trend?
The defence industry of the Republic of Croatia has several highly appreciated and recognized global players who have established themselves not only as a competition to big military industrial complexes, but also as pioneers in several specialized branches. HS Produkt has been taking over the world with its polymer-based pistol for the last 20 years. What is more, that pistol is one of the most represented products in its category on the most saturated and thus the most challenging market – the United States of America. With the high quality, versatility and flexibility of the products tailored to the needs of final beneficiaries, DOK-ING has developed into a trendsetter in mine clearance systems. It is represented on almost all continents. Its products are used not only in the United States Armed Forces, but are also offered as non-resident products in American military help programmes Foreign Military Sales (FMS) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF). Croatian soldiers can provide a first-hand testimony about the quality of and the demand for military helmets by Šestan-Busch. The helmets from Prelog are worn by soldiers and members of security forces worldwide. It is not possible to compare Croatia with the economic, financial, personnel and material capacities of global defence megacorporations nor can Croatia follow trends the way they can. However, it is clear from the examples given that the future development of companies in the Croatian defence industry is dependent on high-quality, technologically advanced, competitive and highly specialized products of military and dual use. Aside from the already mentioned and other related categories, we believe that the IT industry will follow current trends and become more actively involved in the defence component of the economy in the upcoming period.
Are there any news regarding Agency Alan?
Agency Alan has successfully rounded up the development of ammunition for mortars. Pursuant to the needs of the Croatian Armed Forces, it plans on initiating the manufacture of the ammunition for artillery and rockets which would be sold not only to the Ministry of Defence, but also worldwide.
Could the Croatian Armed Forces become more actively involved in industry, development and research projects of the Croatian defence industry through the Croatian Defence Academy, the Support Command or some other organizational unit?
Development and research projects are always welcome as a means of developing the capabilities of the Croatian Armed Forces. Their significance is continually assessed within the defence system of the Republic of Croatia. However, in terms of organization, finances, material resources and personnel, our priority is the necessity for the Croatian Armed Forces to reach the designated capability levels in all aspects, especially those that had been neglected for years (e.g. the air force). Unfortunately, major requirements cannot be realized through research projects and technological developments in the deadline which is currently defined by long-term neglect of the problems. Pursuant to the aforementioned facts, extensive, thorough and direct involvement of the resources of the Ministry of Defence and the Croatian Armed Forces in these projects is not possible at the moment, especially when the statistic indicators of the final applicability and usability of the said research projects are taken into accounts. However, the Ministry of Defence and the Croatian Armed Forces continuously track the possibilities of the utilization of national research projects as well as the capacities of the EU and NATO so as to satisfy the needs of the Croatian Armed Forces and react timely when the conditions for more significant, direct investments into research projects are met. Regardless of the said circumstances, the Croatian defence industry will always have a partner in the Ministry of Defence and the Croatian Armed Forces. We shall assist them in the development of defence projects for foreign markets to the extent of our possibilities, be it the testing of equipment and weapons or lending firing ranges, training ranges, etc. for the said testing. A current example of such co-operation is a software-defined radio (SDR) developed at the initiative of RIZ Profesionalna elektronika Ltd. and Impel Group Ltd.
Where does Croatia stand on defence projects or dual-use projects financed by the European Union?
It is necessary to divide the funds of the European Union into two categories: those which are available for military purposes and those which are not. The European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) are neither intended nor available for military use. However, funds for projects of dual (civil and military) use may be approved under specific, very strict conditions if certain criteria are met. Through the good offices of the Ministry of Defence and the European Defence Agency (EDA), Croatian company Utilis d.o.o. received instruments from the ESIF for the co-financing of project Cyber Conflict Simulator in 2017. The cyber protection of the Ministry of Defence and simulations during the execution of international military exercises are stated as the primary objective of the project. This project will go down in the history of the European Defence Agency as the first dual-use project stemming from the necessity to meet defence, not civil needs. However, it ought to be emphasized that the finalization of implementing acts in the European Union is expected to complete the activation of the European Defence Fund (EDF), which has been created and is exclusively intended for the fulfilment of defence capabilities defined on the level of the European Union through 100-percent funding of research projects and technological development projects as well as projects in the defence industry the objective of which is to achieve strategic autonomy of the European Union’s defence system and defence industry. The EDF has enormous potential, but the conditions for funding are strict and explicit. In order for our projects to be included in the funding, the Ministry of Defence, the Croatian Armed Forces and the defence industry will have to be linked through strong synergy. But, certain steps have already been taken in co-operation with our partner countries within the EU and Croatian companies in the framework of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). If Croatian companies meet the requirements, they will be eligible for financing through the EDF. However, given that these are on-going activities and the EDF itself has not been fully implemented yet, I cannot share any details. I also want to point out that the Ministry of Defence and the Croatian Armed Forces, as components of the military structure, cannot directly make use of the ESIF (with the exception of the EDF) for the development and procurement of weapons and military equipment. Yet, we have successfully fulfilled an important capability goal of the Croatian Armed Forces through co-operation with other ministries. The Ministry of Agriculture has procured a remote-controlled unmanned aerial vehicle (a drone) and 70% of the costs are covered by the EU funds. The drone will be used by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Croatian Armed Forces. Indirectly, through a real, joint operation of the linked bodies of the Croatian government, essential equipment for the execution of priority defence tasks has been procured, EU funds have been successfully invested and the money of Croatian tax payers has been saved.
Do the Ministry of Defence and the Croatian Armed Forces plan on increasing the presence of its employees at international military exhibitions?
In congruence with the available financial means, officials and employees of the Ministry of Defence and the Croatian Armed Forces regularly visit the largest and the most prominent international defence exhibitions so that the positive experiences of the usage of Croatian weapons and military equipment could be directly passed onto Croatian manufacturers’ potential clients. These visits also bear importance for the development of military technical collaboration with other countries and international associations. Through these collaborations, new possibilities for the development of the defence capacities of the Republic of Croatia are generated. For instance, the European Defence Agency initiated a meeting between its Director for European Synergies and Innovation Denis Roger and State Secretary for Defence Zdravko Jakop at last year’s Eurosatory Exhibition in Paris. After the meeting, the Ministry of Defence and the European Defence Agency started a more active collaboration in several developmental defence components which will be elaborated separately during Croatia’s presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2020.
What are the most important objectives in the next Croatian Armed Forces Long-Term Development Plan (LTDP) as far as material resources are concerned?
In the last few years, significant progress in the Croatian Armed Forces has been made with the realization of the most important equipping and modernization projects. This mostly refers to the procurement of the Orbiter 3B unmanned aerial vehicle system for the development of the new capability of aerial reconnaissance of the land and maritime space of the Republic of Croatia. Then, this also includes the introduction of the PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzers and the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior observation and reconnaissance helicopters into operational use; the equipping of the Croatian Army with the 30-mm CRO-DUOS PATRIA AMVs (a 30-mm remote-controlled weapons station with an integrated anti-tank missile system); and the equipping of the Croatian Navy with coast patrol vessel “Omiš”.
However, expert analyses of the key military equipment and their comparison with the needs of the planned future capabilities have revealed the necessity of initiating a new cycle of equipping and modernizing which should not only increase the Croatian Armed Forces’ capability level, but also harmonize national needs with those resulting from NATO membership. The process began with the decision to start negotiations about the introduction of multi-role aircraft of Western platform into use and it will continue with a string of plan-driven and conceptually linked programmes of equipping and modernization throughout the period defined by the LTDP. The aim of the LTDP is to create planning preconditions not only for the development of new capabilities, but also for the maintenance of key capabilities which are now severely limited and which could be practically and irreversibly lost without new investments into equipment or modernization.
In the past period, some important capabilities were not ensured in accordance with the plans and undertakings. Because of that, a special emphasis will be laid on the first period in the LTDP (2020 – 2022), in which a number of key projects will be continued, concluded or launched. The percentage of budgetary allocations for the defence will not be sufficient until the middle of the planning period, when a satisfying dynamics of financing the development and maintenance of defence capabilities will be ensured.
So as to maintain and upgrade our key capabilities, we will develop equipping and modernization projects which should be launched at the end of the planning period defined by the current LTDP, while their finalization and financial effects should stretch into the subsequent period.
During the operationalization and elaboration of capability development projects and/or infrastructure construction/adaptation projects, we will investigate which of these projects other members of the EU and NATO are interested in so as to carry out collaborative projects and make use of available financial instruments offered by the EU and NATO, such as the European Defence Fund, the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) and the NATO Security Investment Programme (NSIP).
What are the most important current and future, already confirmed project of modernizing and equipping the Croatian Armed Forces?
The budget of the Ministry of Defence was increased by 260 million kuna last year. During the current Defence Minister’s term, budgetary allocations for defence were increased by over billion kuna and the defence budget now totals over five billion kuna. The increase in the budget has allowed the creation of key preconditions for the equipping and modernization of the Croatian Armed Forces. Where possible, we relied on the development and production capacities of the Croatian defence industry,
The Republic of Croatia’s existing legal regulations for public procurement procedures are co-ordinated with the positive practice of West European countries and allow for mutually linked expensive and complicated projects of weapons and military equipment procurement to be conducted following a module of multi-year financing for which the decisions are made by the Government of the Republic of Croatia (the PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzers, the PATRIA AMVs, coast patrol vessels, the OH-58 helicopters) or the Ministry of Finance, in case of less complex projects worth up to ten million kuna. However, analyses show that these options are not made use of sufficiently. As a consequence, a number of valuable projects remain limited to one-year budgetary cycles, which slows down their realization and makes it more difficult. Therefore, adequate significance will be given to professional training in public procurement so that the processes of procuring complex weapon systems and military equipment could be maximally modernized and accelerated, without losing sight of transparency.
We shall collaborate with Croatian research institutions which can use their potential to contribute to the research and development of weapons and military equipment as well as to support the equipping and modernizing of the Croatian Armed Forces. As a supplement to the demands set by equipping and modernization processes, we shall consider collaboration with institutions within NATO or the European Defence Agency. Their weapons and military equipment development projects are available for the development and attainment of target capabilities.
One way of financing equipping and modernization is through EU funds. If such possibilities open up to us, priority will be given to projects related to dual-use equipment, i.e. equipment which can be used in tasks supporting civil structures.
Are you continuing with the renovation of barracks and training ranges? Which projects take priorities?
Yes. We are actively continuing the activities of constructing, renovating and adapting facilities and infrastructure in barracks and training ranges.
Among current priorities, I can single out the construction of a new warehouse for combat ordnances at Training Range “Eugen Kvaternik” in Slunj as well as accommodation facilities at the Croatian Defence Academy “Dr. Franjo Tuđman” in Zagreb and Barracks “Lieutenant Colonel Predrag Matanović” in Petrinja.
We are currently drawing up project documentation for the construction of a new gym at Barracks “Bilogora” in Bjelovar, a hangar for technical maintenance of aircraft at Barracks “Lieutenant Colonel Mirko Vukušić” in Zemunik Donji, the archive of the Ministry of Defence and the General Staff of the Croatian Armed Forces at Barracks “1st Guards Brigade Tigrovi – Croatia” in Zagreb, facilities and infrastructure at Barracks “204th Brigade of the Croatian Armed Forces” in Vukovar as well as accommodation facilities at Barracks “Lieutenant Colonel Milivoj Halar” in Dugo Selo and Barracks “Savudrija” in Savudrija.
Taking into account how complex it is to draw up project documentation, conduct the public procurement procedure, negotiate the design and the contractors, not to mention construct the facilities, most of the construction works are to begin in 2019 and they will be finished in 2020.
Out of renovation projects, our current priorities are the refurbishment of the facilities and infrastructure which will house the Centre for Leader Development “Marko Babić” at Barracks “Josip Jović” in Udbina as well as the renovation of support and accommodation facilities in Air Base “Pula”.
Other construction works are also planned for this year, such as the renovation of Object #1 at Barracks “4th Guards Brigade Pauci” in Knin and Object #9 at Barracks “Fleet Admiral Sveto Letica-Barba” in Split.
Along with the aforementioned construction of accommodation facilities, we are planning the renovation of Object #62 with its congress hall, the memorial park and sports facilities at the Croatian Defence Academy “Dr. Franjo Tuđman”.
In general, we are continuing with small-scale and large-scale construction works all over Croatia, in the following locations: Barracks “Bilogora” in Bjelovar, Training Range “Gašinci” in Gašinci, Barracks “132nd Brigade of the Croatian Armed Forces” in Našice, Barracks “Lieutenant Colonel Predrag Matanović” in Petrinja, Barracks “116th Brigade of the Croatian Armed Forces” in Ploče, Barracks”7th Guards Brigade Pume” in Varaždin, Barracks “1st Guards Brigade Tigrovi – Croatia” in Zagreb, Barracks “Lieutenant Colonel Mirko Vukušić” in Zemunik Donji, Barracks “Josip Jović” in Udbina, Barracks “4th Guards Brigade Pauci” in Knin, Barracks “Fleet Admiral Sveto Letica-Barba” in Split, Air Base “Pula” and the Croatian Defence Academy “Dr. Franjo Tuđman” in Zagreb.
What activities are being undertaken regarding the modernization of tactical radios?
The Croatian Armed Forces have initiated the process of modernizing tactical radio communication systems, starting with the lowest tactical level – an individual soldier. Our intention is to equip every enlisted soldier, NCO and officer on the battlefield with a modern radio that will ensure safe and encrypted voice and data communication with their unit and superiors. Seeing as how different units have different needs and capabilities, a radio has to be modular so as to match the soldiers’ needs. It needs to have the option of being connected to various specific pieces of equipment, such as an antenna, headphones, a tactical terminal and the equipment for measuring a soldier’s vital signs. It has to be robust and easy to use. New technologies impose the need for a software-defined radio on which a large portion of parameters can be programmed through an application. The Croatian Armed Forces are currently testing the prototype of the TAKRAD radio, a product of collaboration between Croatian companies RIZ Profesionalna elektronika Ltd. and Impel Group Ltd.
Interview by DOMAGOJ VLAHOVIĆ
Photo by TOMISLAV BRANDT
Translation by IVA GUGO