At the beginning of 2022, as Russia continued its massive troop build-up on Ukraine’s borders, the Czech government was thinking ahead. Even though Russia denied it was planning an invasion of its neighbour, the Czech cabinet immediately reacted to Kyiv’s request for support and approved a shipment of calibre 152 mm ammunition to Ukraine. It was the first of many donations made by Prague.
“Helping the invaded country is a strategic priority for the Czech Republic, as we understand that by supporting Ukraine, we protect the whole of Europe,” says Deputy Minister Jireš. It was also one of the main priorities of the Czech presidency of the Council of the European Union, which the Czech Republic ran in the second half of 2022. Thanks in part to this, support to Ukraine remains the main focus of the EU as a whole.
The fact that Prague was one of the first Western capitals to provide a continued military support to Ukraine did not go unnoticed. It was recognised by the United States, as Washington announced in August that it would provide the Czech Republic with eight AH-1Z and UH-1Y helicopters for free, except for transfer and upgrades. “We have to get rid of the legacy Soviet-made military equipment,” says Jireš. “To a large extent, this has already been achieved, but not entirely. Our support to Ukraine has accelerated this process. Of course, our primary motivation in helping Ukraine is to provide it with the means needed for defence against Russia’s brutal aggression. But the fact is that, as a by-product, it will lead to an increased interoperability of NATO allies and EU members in the end.”
Now, as the impetus grows to replenish European military stocks exhausted by supplying materiel to Ukraine, the Czech EU presidency has been instrumental in laying the groundwork for a new tool known as the European Defence Industry Reinforcement through common Procurement Act (EDIRPA). Already well-versed in joint procurement, the Czech Republic bought ammunition under an arrangement between the European Defence Agency (EDA) and Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, and Poland in April 2013 for the ‘Carl-Gustaf’ recoilless anti-tank weapon.
“Joint procurement can be a useful approach in specific cases. It may bring economies of scale, boost the leverage of smaller customers vis-à-vis large producers, and help increase interoperability. After all, we have experience with joint procurement in NATO through its procurement agency NSPA, which means we are well aware of both pros and cons,” he says. “EDIRPA is a promising instrument. But it will only have a limited impact on Europe’s military capabilities,” the Deputy Minister cautions. He adds that “there are a number of obstacles at the national level – political, technical, legislative, procedural, even mental – that we may never be able or willing to remove.”
EU and NATO countries need to work on addressing key capability gaps required, in the first place, for collective defence, with the NATO Defence Planning Process being vital for the defence of Europe. In his opinion, filling capability gaps “is certainly realistic, but it won’t be achieved right away, and it won’t happen across the whole capabilities spectrum.” He points to examples where collaboration is working, notably in strategic airlift. The Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) project, which brings a European aircraft capable of aerial refuelling, is “a good example of cross-organisational and cross-agency cooperation.”