The ceremony marking the 25th Annivesary of the Croatian Air Force and Air Defence, held…
The dignity of Croatian soldiers has been restored
Damir Krstičević, Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister of the Republic of Croatia
On the occasion of the 27th anniversary of the establishment of the Croatian Army, we interviewed the Defence MinisterDamir Krstičević, addressing all current developments in the defence system.
We are now focussed on the future, on the upgrade of the Croatian Army’s capabilities and on the development of the national security system, so that we never face the situation from the early 1990ies again.
Minister, You visited the Minnesota National Guard last week, where You had the opportunity to fly aboard a U.S Air Force’s F-16, as the first Croatian defence minister to do so. What are your impressions?
I am honoured to have had an opportunity in my quality to fly aboard a really powerful aircraft. The experience confirmed that the Republic of Croatia has made the right decision and that the F-16 aircraft will guarantee the stability and security of our country. I now completely understand the Croatian pilots’ impatients to step into the cockpits of the F-16 procured for the Croatian Air Force. It is an extraordinary experience and a new chapter for our Air Force. The flight was offered and organised by the U.S. and the Minnesota National Guard to approve the Decision on the procurement of multirole fighter aircraft the impatience of our pilots to sit in the cabins of our F-16. And to state the support for the Croatian Air Force. The Minnesota National Guard wished us welcome to the club of users of F-16 and is ready to share the respective experience with us.
The year 2018 will be marked by the adoption of the Decision on the procurement of multirole fighter aircraft. What does the Decision mean to you?
It is a historic decision for the Republic of Croatia and I am very glad and proud of it. The Decision guarantees the future of the Croatian air force’s combat arms. Everything we are doing is for the beenefit of the future generations, to make Croatia safe, and capable of protecting its sovereignty and to respond to any security challenges posed by the new global environment. We must also bear in mind that the investment into security is the precondition of the economic development and prosperity of a country, and for us the acquisition of the Israeli F-16 means retained capability of the control of the national air space through the procurement of a multirole fighter aircraft and through a strategic partnership and long-term business and economic co-operation.The procurement of the aircraft paves the way to the strenghtening of the overall economy of the Republic of Croatia. The success of the co-operation with Israel, which offers large potential, will depend on the ability of the Croatian businesses.
The co-operation with the State of Israel is not limited to the acquisition of the aircraft but also includes the exchange of the practical operational experience; the Israeli pilots belong to the worlds’ top pilots, and Croatian pilots will finally have the opportunity to fly a top fighter of the fourth-generation , after years aboard the second-generation, and it is a huge technological step forward. . Our dream is to see the Croatian pilots fly the first two F-16 in 2020 – the 25th anniversary of the victorious operations “Lightning“ (two- seater F 16) and “Storm“ (single-seater) and the year of the first Croatian presidency of the European Union, and I wish to see the F-16 flypast over Knin saluting the Croatian citizens and defenders. The tails of the two-seaters will be adorned with an image of Rudolf Perešin, honouring him for everything he did for Croatia.
I have to remind of our own painful experience of non-existence of a combat arms squadron; the air force made all the difference and helped win many battles during . The toll of our freedom wasvery high – the sacrifice of many defenders and citizens, in addition to the huge material damage.For these reasons it would be most irresponsible to find ourselves in the situation and disarmed as in 1991 again. We must not allow that, for the sake of our future generations.
We marked the 27th anniversary of the Croatian Army, which all these years has been commemorated with a tribute to Croatian defenders. To what extent can the value of the Homeland War be implemented into everyday life today?
The Homeland War is the foundation of a modern Croatian state, and its defenders are its cornerstone. The Croatian soldier defended peace and freedom figthing within the national borders and won the imposed war. For that reason the Croatian Army was imbued with the symbols and values of the Homeland War. I am proud of the revived Grand Changing of the Guard ceremony in St Mark Square, after 17 years. Halls in the barracks and military facilities throughout the country were named after the meritorious defenders, the units winning magnificient victories n the Homeland War and its heroes. The toll for our freedom in the 1990ies was enormous, and for the sake of this sacrifice the values of the Homeland War must be guarded and piety for every victim and life sacrified for the freedom must be shown. We are now focussed on the future, on the upgrade of the Croatian Army’s capabilities and on the development of the national security system, so that we never face the situation from the early 1990ies again.
The victorious Croatian Army continues to enjoy most public confidence. This is confirmed by winning the “Pride of Croatia“ award for the engagement in fighting fires and floods in 2017? Do You see a reversed image of the Army as only a budget consumer?
I am sure that this image is changing and that the Croatians are fond of the Croatian Army, judging also the by example of the “Pride of Croatia“ award, which is an award of the citizens. The engagement of Croatian soldiers fighting the fires and floods proved that the role of the Croatian Army is to be ready at all times to protect and defend the people, be it in a war or against natural disasters. We opened the Army to the people in every sense, and each anniversary is marked at open, along with the citizens. It was obvious at the recent ceremonies marking the anniversaries of the 4th Guards Brigade in Split , where we were joined by thousands of the citizens , and of the anniversary of the Operation “Maslenica“ in Zadar. The strength of the Croatian Army and the public image of its role will depend on how close it is to the people.
You set clear goals on taking Your office; which have been well implemented and which ones in Your view are developing too slow?
I have to say that we have done a lot of work; the most important is the assistance provided to the population affected by the fires last year and the heavy snowfall early this year. I am most happy when I see the Croatian soldiers next to the citizens as they belong with them We still have a lot to do, but I am certain that togetherness and patriotism will help remove any obstacle . The priority in the upcoming period is the overhaul of the Mi-171Sh helicopters, a highly important asset in the assistance to the civilian institutions, fighting the fires and emergency medical transportation, which we expect within the first half of 2019. The Croatian Air Force will have the most complex task of preparing the infrastructure, conduct pilot and technician selection and training to set the ground for the year 2020, when the first two F-16 C aircraft – Storm“ and F-16 D “Lightning“ enter the operational service. Another important project is the equipment of the first eight Patria vehicles with the 30-mm guns fitted with the anti-armour guided rocket system, which is a project within the continued modernisation towards enhanced firepower and mobility . The important project for the Croatian Navy is the inshore patrol vessel and modernisation of other systems and maritime surveillance platforms. Training-wise, we lack a combat leader development course, which was earlier administered at the NCO training centre at Šepurine, as the training of our NCOs needs to be upgraded. The NCOs make all the difference.
Early in Your office You emphasised the focus on the human resources, enlisted soldiers, NCOs and officers who made the decisive difference in the Homeland War, winning peace and freedom. What has been achieved in this regard so far, and what still needs to be done to upgrade the living and working conditions for the Croatain soldiers?
In the previous years the defence budget was decreasing, cutting the material rights of the members of the Croatian Army and taking their pride and dignity away: the victorious Croatian Army became a commuting Army. The commuting to and from the barracks took most of their days, leaving no time for rest and family life. What we need is a happy soldier and a happy family. A happy soldier can fully do his/her demanding assignments. The human resources are the vital part of the system and make the difference, just as they did in the Homeland War. The new amendments to the Act on the Service in the Croatian Armed Services Act passed by the Croatian Parliament this year restore gradually the material rights, the compensation for sentry duties, duty periods and off-base service. Also, young officers assuming their first officer duties will receive the accomodation allowance in the post of duty, which was not the case before. The system is being upgraded and with visible progress. I am ofter out in the field, talking to soldiers amd they commend the changes. We have restored the dignity of our soldiers! It is a process that takes time, cannot be achieved overnight?
The Croatian soldiers have been fully equipped with products made in Croatia, and are promoters of the Croatian military industry.
I have to remind that remind you that earlier this year the Ministry of Defence signed 35 contracts with 26 Croatian companies on the procurement of military equipment for the Croatian Army worth 280,994,692.17 HRK (38.126,823.49 EUR) ,or 45 million HRK (6.106.834 EUR) more compared to 2017 . It is a proof of the importance that the MoD attaches to the development of the Croatian industry. The Ministry will always be a partner for the Croatian military equipment manufacturers, recognising and stimulating the Croatian excellence. The developed partnership with the Croatian economy is an excellent way to unite the interests of the state and of the private sector, which is best evinced in the national equipment of the members of the Croatian Army deployed to the international missions and operations worldwide. In conclusion, the Ministry of Defence will support the synergy of the designers of new products and the promoters, boosting the Croatian economic growth and increasing the exports.
What do the National Security Strategy and the Homeland Security System Act bring to the Croatian citizens? Is their content just words or is it really implemented?What is Your view?
Last season was extremely tough, with many fires breaking out , followed by the floods. For that reason, the Government of the Republic of Croatia, headed by the Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, took a systematic approach to security, adopting the National Security Strategy in July 2017. We realised on time the need to put in place a system to enable responding to any threats and risks, the same as had in the Homeland War, characterised by synergy and cohesion. We need a rational and effective system, professionalised and responsible, which was demonstrated in the exercise “Sigurnost 18“ (Security ) in May: all capabilities were integrated, showing the strength of the government institutions. Although the nature is hard to fight, the system will be more effcient and operational for the upcoming firefigther season, which will test its component s.
The Croatian participation in the international peace missions and operation has never been this extensive. Is it a reflection of the changing security environment or for other reasons? What is the motive for the presence of the Croatian soldiers in Poland and Lithuania?
I think it is very important for the Croatian Army to take part in peacekeeping missions worldwide, as we know from our own experience how valuable the assistance was to us during the Homeland War. Through the engagement in various missions worldwide, those in Poland and Lithuania included, we evince solidarity with our allies and friends and contribute to international security, we get the chance to compare our capabilities with the best, adopt many experiences into our system but also at the same time we share with them the experiences from the Homeland War and promote the products of the Croatian defence industry. We cannot remain observers and expect others to protect us. The membership in the most powerful military alliance costs money; we must respond to the threat at its source and for that reason Croatia will continue to rationally contribute to he peace with our NATO allies in the world, as the United States is our strategic defence and security partner, which provided immense contribution to the equipment of the Croatian Army through many donations and training and education tours for our members, and political and military assistance on our path to NATO. After the war the Croatian Army had to undergo transformation to qualify as a full member. We have maintained partnership with the Minnesota National Guard for 22 years, and I am very pleased with the achieved level of co-operation.
In 2017 three generations of voluntary servicemen were admitted to the Croatian Army. One of the explanations offered was the safety of the employment in the times of economic instability? What is Your view on that?
The Croatians are fond of the Croatian Armed Forces, as proved by the increased interest in joining it; three new generations will be admitted in 2018 too, but we are also making progress with the establishment of six reserve units by the end of the year, which will close the establishment. The intensive ac tivities aimed at restoring respect for the victorious Croatian Army have been recognised and well received. These are systematic solutions upgrading the living and working conditions of the Croatian soldiers, ranging from food quality, the restoration of the material rights and the new territorial distribution. The young people are showing increasing interest in the Military Management and Military Engineering study programmes; and the Military Maritime Studies, educating future naval officers, to be launched later this year at the University of Split . Also, the Government’s decision to procure new multirole fighter aircraft has increased the interest in the aeronautics.
The Croatian Armed Forces are taking part in ever more exercises, in Croatia and abroad. Also, new assets are introduced in operational service, such as the Kiowa Warrior helicopters, the PZH 2000 Howitzers etc. It gives rise to optimism and to the safety of the citizens of Croatia. What is Your comment on that?
Established in the Homeland War, driven by motivation and patriotism of the Croatian defenders, the Croatian Armed Forces have over time grown into a respectable military force which was capable to autonomously plan and conduct the military and police operation “Storm“.
The U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis clearly stated his appreciation for the Operation during my last year’s visit to the United States and stressed that the Operation is studied in the U.S. military schools as an example of brilliantly prepared and conducted liberating operation. The experiences of the kind from the Homeland are invaluable and can be shared with our partners. The Croatian soldiers being credible partner, recognised and respected by the allies and partners in the missions world wide is a proof of rising optimism and safety of the Croatian citizens.
We have been making efforts to systematically equip and modernise the Croatian Army, and to replace the Soviet-made weapons with the western products, in a timeline determined by the Long-term Development Plan of the Croatian Armed Forces.
The new Long-term Development Plan is in drafting, which will address the development and modernisation for the upcoming long period.
Minister, You have been inducted into the U.S. Army’s War College International Fellows Hall of Fame? Belonging to the same club as Gen. Eisenhower and other famous fellows must be a mighty experience?
It is a huge recognition to me, to the Croatian Armed Forces and Croatia as a whole. I am honoured to represent my country, a small country batting way beyond its weight. I would like to express my appreciation to all enlisted soldiers, NCOs and officers and my associates for their share in that recognition. My three-career experience has showed that the co-workers – the team help you on your way to the success. My study year in the U-S. Army’s War College helped me a great deal with strategic planning and decision making and with my professional development . It was a very helpful experience for a young officer and showed me the power of international co-operation in today’s global society. I shall always feel privileged and proud to have been a fellow of that great institution.