If you are looking for an area where the Czech army – and thus the entire defense capability of our country – has the most visible cracks, then it is air defense. The rocket regiment in Strakonice has been undergoing modernization for several years, but its main weapon remains the extremely outdated Soviet 2K12 KUB systems and service equipment on the chassis of historic Zil-131 trucks.
The KUB sets should be scrapped in 2026. According to the intergovernmental agreement signed last October, the Czech army is to acquire four Israeli batteries of the Spyder system for CZK 13.7 billion. At that moment, the entire ground air defense of the Czech Republic will be based on four spyders and thirty-two portable Swedish RBS-70 systems, which are primarily used to protect troops above the battlefield.
Probably also because the Czech air defense is focused on covering short and very short distances, the Ministry of Defense has been evaluating information from Berlin since the holidays. It is an offer to the Czech army, or rather the domestic industry, to participate in the nascent project, which began to be informally called “German Shield”.
Berlin’s offer comes at a very favorable moment for it, when it is changing from a cold military ally to a great helper.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke publicly about the concept for the first time during a recent visit to Prague. Among other things, he said: “In the coming years, we will invest heavily in air defense in Germany. (…) In addition, Germany will design this future air defense in such a way that our European neighbors – for example, the Poles, the Baltic countries, the Netherlands, Czechs, Slovaks or our Scandinavian partners – can participate in it, if they are interested in it.”
Berlin’s interesting offer comes at a very favorable moment for it, when it is changing from a cold military ally to a major European helper. Not only because, thanks to relatively surprisingly large supplies of weapons to Ukraine and investments in its own defense budget, it is becoming, together with rampant Poland, the continent’s military hegemon.
In addition, Germany also helps other countries, which can be seen in the donation of tanks to the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Just how selfish this help can be is indicated by the invitation to the German Shield.
A variant could be the use of only some segments from the German Shield system. That is, those that the Czechia alone would not reach.
Your own way? Just hard
Of course, Berlin does not force anyone to become part of its anti-aircraft umbrella. However, as can be seen in the case of the Czech Republic, it does not have to be a pointless offer.
Our military does not have the capabilities, let alone the finances, to provide long-range air defense. If Prague decided to go its own way, the price could reach hundreds of billions of crowns.
That is also why there is talk that a variant could be the use of only some segments from the German Shield system. That is, those that the Czechia would not be able to reach on its own and which can be advantageous for it. This would also involve the involvement of the domestic defense industry in the German umbrella, which the companies would of course welcome.
The question is how much money would eventually cost to participate in the German Shield system. Depending on how all-encompassing the architecture might be, it won’t be cheap. But alliances always come at a cost. And especially in the current situation, when Russia is trying to disintegrate Ukraine and, hybridly, the whole of Europe, such international projects are a very strong and clear signal that the West stands by itself.
Berlin is a natural ally for Prague, and currently the most important.
The most important ally
The fact is, however, that the Czechia does not have good experience with international defense projects. Apart from the joint purchases of ammunition, nothing else has been successful so far. At the same time, it has been eight years since the declaration was ceremoniously signed at the NATO Days in Mošnów, within the framework of which the countries of the Visegrad Four wanted to develop and construct a 3D air defense radar.
In the end, the interesting idea did not succeed, because the national interests and goals of individual companies very quickly began to prevail over the effect of international cooperation.
Even though such cooperation makes sense from a business and military point of view, it very often stumbles. Sometimes companies may fear the loss of their own know-how, and sometimes the army decides that the development of the system is too long for it and prefers to acquire established technologies from abroad.
However, this may change in 2022 due to the security situation in Europe and the aggressive behavior of Russia. Berlin is a natural ally for Prague, and currently the most important. And his German Shield is again a very tempting project.
However, Germany – and now the Czechia as well – must first convince other European countries to join the umbrella. Otherwise, there is a real risk that only segments will remain from the daring project, or that Berlin itself will not be able to finance the system.
The author is a member of the ČT Reporters editorial board.