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By Rea Poljak, M.A., YATA Croatia President

General Drago Lovrić holds the position of Chief of General Staff of the Croatian Armed Forces since March 1, 2011. He joined the Croatian Armed Forces in August 1991, at the beginning of the Homeland War in Croatia. General Lovrić has been decorated with numerous high Croatian military decorations, and was presented on February 18, 2013 with the Legion of Merit of the United States of America for his extraordinary achievements, special efforts and supreme performance of his duties. The award was presented on behalf of the President of the United States. Furthermore, General Lovrić holds a Ph.D. in national security from the Faculty of Political Science, University of Zagreb. His doctorate thesis was on transformation of NATO, and crisis management in the new world order.

  • Sir, you participated at the 170th NATO Chiefs of Defense meeting, which was held at NATO HQ in Brussels, Belgium, from January 22-23, 2014. Among others, sessions on ISAF and KFOR missions were held. The Croatian Armed Forces has participated in the ISAF mission since February 2003 and in the KFOR mission since July 2009. Can you tell us briefly what were the conclusions of those sessions, and how will Croatia contribute to the aforementioned missions in the future?

During the last Military Committee meeting in Brussels, among other important topics, we have also discussed ISAF and KFOR current situation and future development.

Concerning ISAF, all Chiefs of Defense agreed that it is of utmost importance to maintain political and military support to Afghanistan and to focus on the success of ISAF during this year. It is important that ANSF become competent, capable and confident to take over responsibility for Afghan security and stability. The main key for successful transition from ISAF to RESOLUTE SUPPORT is to fulfill all the requirements and to resolve any gaps through this process of transition.

Regarding KFOR, NATO will continue with the mission and it has acknowledged the significant political progress in Kosovo. Further changes in the KFOR role will be driven by the conditions and development of the situation in the theatre.

Croatian Armed Forces are ready and capable to continue its participation in both operations, as well as in the new RESOLUTE SUPPORT Mission in Afghanistan, but this will depend on future mission requirements and Croatian Parliamentary decisions.

  • What lessons can we take from participation in the ISAF and KFOR missions?

Since Croatia started with participation of its Armed Forces in peace support operations worldwide, the most complex and challenging was our contribution in Afghanistan. Working in a multinational environment is very challenging as well. Some of the lessons identified and learned are related to logistics and sustainability of our military personnel in Afghanistan. Participation in ISAF has given us opportunity to see which capabilities we have to upgrade and what we have to rebuild to become more compatible and sufficiently interoperable with our allies. I must emphasized results and effects we had achieved in the field of Afghan National Security Forces capability building. Through deployment of our Mentoring/Advisory Teams to ISAF we work on daily basis with our Afghan counterparts. This is the proper way for contribution of small armed forces as CAF to building peace and stability in the country. However, ANSF capability building is a two-way street and we have gained some experience which further enhances our own capabilities and interoperability.

  • The Croatian Armed Forces play an active role in the Alliance initiatives within the project "Smart Defense" and "Connected Forces Initiative". Could you please elaborate this further?

The Smart Defence Initiative is a good tool for enhancing capabilities, especially in times of budgetary constraints. We have already identified some benefits and opportunities of this initiative and we expressed interest in 10 specific projects. Our most advanced participation till now is in Balkan Regional Approach to Air Defence (BRAAD) - for the provision of the air surveillance capabilities to nations in the Balkan region; and in Multinational Aviation Training Centre (MATC) - for advanced tactical training of helicopter crews and till now we have already conducted several cycles of pre-deployment training for ISAF Air Advisory Teams together with Czech Republic.

At the Chicago Summit in May 2012, Allied Heads of State and Government agreed to implement theConnected Forces Initiative (CFI) as part of the means to deliver key goals of NATO Forces 2020. The aim of CFI is to ensure better interconnection between NATO and national exercises in order to further develop training for the Alliance forces based on the benefits and interoperability reached through joint participation in recent operations. Croatian Armed Forces support this idea because this is the proper way to maintain interoperability and become more efficient with regard to available resources.

  • Croatia has started its participation in peace support operations in 1999 by sending its representatives in one of the United Nations peace missions. Since then, Croatia has increased its participation in peace support operations, and today participates in operations under the auspices of the United Nations, NATO, and the European Union. Could you tell us please, where are Croatian soldiers currently deployed, and how many of them are there?

To start with, I would like to use this opportunity and to emphasize the fact that in less than two decades, Republic of Croatia from security consumer became security provider. Croatian Armed Forces till now actively participated in all together 14 missions and operations abroad (one NATO-led, one EU-led and 12 UN missions). The highest annual number of Croatian Armed Forces members deployed to missions and operations was nearly bigger than 1000 in 2011-2013 timeframe.

Croatia currently participates in five UN missions (UNMIL, UNFICYP, UNIFIL, MINURSO, UNMOGIP) with military observers and staff officers as well; two NATO-led operations (ISAF and KFOR); and in the EU-led operation (ATALANTA). At this moment, there are altogether 214 Croatian soldiers deployed in aforementioned missions and operations.

  • Recently, a lot of countries were faced with military budget cuts, and Croatia is among those countries. What is the real impact of past and future budget cuts on the force?

Like many other countries, Croatia has been facing the economic crisis which has had a negative impact on defense budget. According our Long Term Development Plan 2006-2015, it had been planned that Croatian Defense budget would strive to get as close as possible to 2% of GDP. Unfortunately, that was not a case and during 2009 and 2010 we were forced to apply significant budget cuts, which reflected on postponement or cancellation of certain modernization and equipping projects. For the last three years, we have a balanced defense budget and all our acquisition and procurement projects are on track. Having in mind current economic situation, our new LTDP will be based on similar projections of defense budget for the first five years, with slight increase for the second period. All future plans for modernization and procurement, as well as our plans for participation in peace support missions and operations abroad, have been prioritized according to our needs and international commitments. There are also certain capabilities that we are not capable to develop by ourselves, and we are exploring possible solutions through bilateral cooperation and multinational initiatives such as NATO Smart Defense and EU Pooling and Sharing.

  • How do you think our armed forces will evolve, and what do you see as the greatest challenges to its future success?

Having in mind that the Level of Ambition depends on the economic power of the state, it is our intention to maintain the existing level of defense budget over the next three years, with an emphasis on rationalization and more viable allocation of funds for personnel, operating expenditures and equipping the Croatian Armed Forces.

The basis for the development and interoperability of the Croatian Armed Forces will be the forces that are equipped and trained to participate in peace support operations and operations within the framework of collective defense. NATO Capability Targets are the main connection between NATO and national defense planning, through which we will support the single set of forces principle in accordance with the needs of NATO and the EU. Additionally, significant investments will be made to those capabilities that will be used only nationally, for example Coast Guard ships, Search and Rescue assets, firefighting aircraft, etc.

As mentioned before, new LTDP will aim, among others, at the optimization of Croatian Armed Forces, including downsizing and changes in its structure, by increasing operational capabilities and reduction of administrative part. We will enable and trigger numerous acquisition processes, which will maintain and upgrade operational capabilities. Through this whole transformation, we must always pay special attention on the welfare of our soldiers, NCOs and officers and their families.

  • Can you list the most important goals you want to focus on during 2014?

It might look ambitious, but our main efforts during 2014 will be given to the following activities:

    • approval of new strategic (LTDP) and legal documents in line with the new Law on Defense and Law on the Service in the Armed Forces,

    • continuation of ongoing modernization and procurement projects: overhaul of MiG-21 aircraft, Mi-8 helicopters, new transport and all-terrain vehicle, communication and network capabilities, dual use equipment, etc…

    • maintaining readiness of our Armed Forces for protection of national sovereignty and territorial integrity through training and military exercises and continuous participation in peace support operations abroad,

    • implementation and activation of new academic programs for the Armed Forces in cooperation with Zagreb University,

    • enhancement of bilateral and regional cooperation through military exercises and joint projects as part of NATO and EU initiatives,

    • support to civilian community,

    • and last but not the least, development and implementation of new concept of reserve as part of the Croatian Armed Forces.





General Drago Lovrić, PhD, Chief of General Staff of the Croatian Armed Forces (Photo Source: Hrvatski vojnik, http://www.hrvatski-vojnik.hr/hrvatski-vojnik/3462011/bpictures/WIL_2527.jpg)



Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), Admiral James Stavridis (right), gives the Legion of Merit to Croatia Chief of Defense, General Drago Lovrić (left), during an award ceremony at the Office of the President of Republic of Croatia (Photo Source: Allied Command Operations, http://www.aco.nato.int/saceur-presents-legion-of-merit-to-ltg-drago-lovric.aspx)


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