“We need to train as many people as possible to use arms. If need be, we might get weaponry supplies from our NATO partners, but we’d still need people able to use those weapons,” Gen. Žukas said on LRT television on Thursday. He was joined by Minister of National Defence Juozas Olekas in discussion on Lithuania’s military defence plans.
General, what has changed in the national defence system since 2011, when the current defence concept was adopted?
Jonas Vytautas Žukas: We have set up a rapid response force, there’s more funding for the army. The general political environment is different. There are revised NATO defence plans. We have a new edition of NATO defence plans for our region, Poland, other countries. A number of new factors we must take into account.
Minister, am I correct in saying that the new defence concept will focus on response to unidentified armed forces and takeovers of certain institutions? This is what we’ve witnessed first in Crimea and then in other places in eastern Ukraine.
Juozas Olekas: We were authorised to revise the concept and incorporate the circumstances that the chief of defence has mentioned. Other relevant factors include cyber and information security. These issues have acquired more prominence than they had before. We must respond to these threats. Therefore we agreed to revise the plans.
Will there be any essential changes? For instance, principles of organising reserve forces, mobilization?
JO: Defence plans will not change radically. As I’ve said, there are additional factors to consider, like units that did not exist before. After all, there are decisions of the Wales Summit, the basis for setting up rapid response forces in NATO countries, and many other things. There are new security measures, foreign military presence in Lithuania, foreign headquarters as well as international forces and headquarters to be based in Lithuania. All this has been set into motion. It’s only natural that old plans therefore need to be revised, since we didn’t have all that back in 2011, and now we do.
The State Armed Defence Concept is not a public document. How many people in Lithuania have seen it? Is it only for the eyes of army commanders or do lower officers are familiar with its content too?
JO: One must know only what one must know, as the saying goes. Commanders are informed as much as they need to be informed, while unit chiefs know their bit. This is standard scheme in military structures.
JVŽ: A rather big number of people are working on these plans anyway, because they cover a variety of areas: planning, budget, army goals, particular tasks for army units and operative directions. When we were preparing the previous plans, we had extensive discussions with army division commanders as well as joint staff officers. Reaching the agreement involved discussion and much disagreement.
General, you have been in the army for many years, you’ve seen a fair number of concepts and strategies. How have they changed since before our NATO membership, after it and now?
JVŽ: They are different in many ways. The situation when the Lithuanian army had just been formed was unlike what it is now. There were plans about how the army should be organized – volunteer forces, the Iron Wolf brigade, other units. Then followed the NATO accession period, when we had to draft plans for membership. We had to meet many conditions presented by NATO experts. After we joined NATO, we had to take on certain responsibilities: international missions, forming a combat group, our part in NATO’s rapid response force, etc. Different tasks at different times.
How often are defence plans usually updated?
JVŽ: There is no set pattern, it depends on circumstances. If the situation demands that we revise defence plans and take on new responsibilities, we must do it whenever it comes up.
Minister, there have been talks, including among former ministers, about reintroducing conscription. This would allow to expand reserve forces and train more people, as the argument goes. Are you considering this option?
JO: Our laws do not preclude returning to conscription. The Conscription Law was simply suspended. I think the key now is to find the right balance between increasing servicemen number and properly arming them.
One must bear in mind that, for a long time, we had very limited resources, insufficient for our goals to expand and modernize the army. Right now, we cannot go to one extreme or the other. We could extend our reserve forces, have many conscripts, but it all comes down to resources. And we must have modern forces ready to defend the country today. We cannot fight war without any reserves. We need to amass some reserve and only then can we think of expansion. The more servicemen there are, the more go into reserve. There’s no need to separately train soldiers and reservists, since a soldier serves for four years and then goes into reserve. The primary goal right now is to man the existing units.
This means that there are not enough soldiers in some of them?
JVŽ: Yes, there’s a shortage of soldiers, since there had been no money to hire them and enrol enough people into compulsory military training. We will try to do it now. We need to have a well-trained personnel. We need to train as many people as possible to use arms. If need be, we might get weaponry supplies from our NATO partners, but we’d still need people able to use those weapons. We also have to man existing army units. It is indeed a problem – right now, land forces are manned only 50 percent.
JO: Exactly, what we need are professional soldiers able to operate weaponry. They’re not fighting with swords or simple shotguns these days but rather antitank and anti-aircraft systems. Soldiers need to enter coordinates, manage artillery systems. Many aspects require experience. I think it is wrong to focus our efforts for a few months and then assume that we are prepared.