STA, 18 April 2018 - The new chief of the general staff, Major General Alan Geder, plans to fill up the ranks of the military so that the Slovenian Armed Forces could meet the minimum requirements to fulfil national and international obligations. "The problem is that ambitions are too high and investment in the military too low," he said in an interview with the STA.
Geder says the Slovenian military would need 8,000 professional soldiers and 2,000 members of the reserve at the minimum to be able to perform according to its goals. These are not set by the military itself, but by laws and international and bilateral treaties.
The chief-of-staff believes that people's interest in serving in the army will increase if a soldier's pay increases to reflect the trends in the labour market and if soldiers will get suitable benefits.
However, just raising pay will not be enough; Geder believes that the army should be taken out of the single public sector pay system and become more battle-oriented.
"The military must be more battle-oriented so that secondary tasks don't prevail. They are more likeable, but the primary role, because of which the army actually exists - warfare - is neglected because of them."
Focusing on the bad preparedness reports about the state of the army does nothing to help boost enlistment, Geder noted.
Some countries try to keep at least parts of preparedness reports private, but in Slovenia "we discuss it as we'd be discussing prices of tomatoes at the market. This probably is not entirely suitable".
He blames the army's unsatisfactory readiness for war-time action and good preparedness for peace time operations on a lack of resources. According to Geder, the latest overall negative assessment results from the marks the army got for equipment and staffing.
While the incumbent government had nominally stopped the negative trend in defence funding, Geder stressed that this was far from enough to finance one of the biggest investments Slovenia has committed to as a NATO member, a EUR 1.2bn plan to set up two mid-sized battalion battle groups.
If the next government fails to introduce significant change, Slovenia can forget about fulfilling the commitment of setting the groups up by 2023 and 2025, he stressed.
Geder also rejected criticisms that Slovenia did not need the two battalions because it was not in any kind of danger.
Pointing to EU and NATO assessments that the situation in Europe and its neighbourhood was deteriorating, Geder noted that Slovenia had experienced some of the consequences in the refugee crisis and expressed hope that it would not have to experience anything tougher.
"We all hope that, but we must have the army ready for various kinds of security and defence challenges - in peace, we're getting the military ready for crisis situations."
Moreover, should the conflict between NATO and its eastern neighbours escalate, "Slovenia will likely not be excluded as a member of the EU and NATO".
Geder was appointed the chief of the general staff after Major General Andrej Osterman was dismissed in February over an elite brigade's failure to pass a NATO combat readiness test.
One of his first measures was to replace the commander of the brigade and to send the almost 900-strong battalion for additional training before they retake the test called Course for Land Forces (CREVAL), presumably at the end of June.
Because the battalion cannot perform regular duties while in training, the Slovenian Armed Forces called in the contract reserve as a stopgap measure.
Of the 691 individuals contacted, 414 have responded, which is above expectations, Geder acknowledged. They are currently in training and will be assigned to duties, mostly support services, in line with their professional and personal circumstances.
Another urgent matter that awaited the new chief of staff was the Triglav patrol boat, which is not fully equipped in terms of armament but is to go on a mission as part of the Sophia international operation in the Mediterranean on Friday.
He stressed that Triglav was ready for the humanitarian mission, because it would not need its non-operational weapons systems.
The Slovenian Armed Forces will address these shortcomings, Geder added. A gun will be replaced but an analysis is required to address the issues of the gun's effect on Triglav's buoyancy.