Govt opts against EUR 300m-plus armoured vehicle deal
The army does not have a comprehensive tactical study showing exactly what capabilities Slovenia needs and the procurement documentation is based on a tactical study made in 2005 that does not represent an appropriate basis for the purchase, Defence Minister Karl Erjavec said after the government session on Thursday.
The minister ordered the army to carry out a new tactical study that will determine whether it needs new eight-wheeled personnel carriers, which vehicles would be best, how they will be maintained, and how staff will be trained.
Erjavec said this did not mean that the purchase has been terminated. "We will have to buy eight-wheeled armoured personnel carriers sooner rather than later, but first we need to define exactly what we need."
The decision was expected given weeks of rumours about there being something wrong with the proposed deal, most recently expressed by Prime Minister Marjan Šarec in an interview with Večer last weekend. He said his government "did not want to embark on an adventure, we had certain indications things are not acceptable."
But it casts doubt on the country's ability to meet the pledge given to NATO that it will have one battlegroup ready by 2022 and a second one by 2025.
Erjavec was sanguine about that, noting that it was already clear the first battlegroup will not be ready by 2022. "Even if we signed the purchase agreement today, we would not be able to do everything," he said. The effort would be hampered not just by long delivery times but also by staff shortages and lack of investments.
The planned purchase is being closely watched in Slovenia given the parallels to the previous mega defence deal, the 2006 contract with Patria on the purchase of 135 infantry vehicles at that time worth EUR 278m.
The Patria deal, signed the first time Erjavec was defence minister, devolved into years of court drama involving senior politicians.
Erjavec repeated today that the mid-term defence programme and the white paper on defence would be revised. Pointing to Slovenia's commitments to NATO about increasing defence spending, he said the 2020/21 budget would be "the moment of truth."
"I expect that in 2019, 1.1% of GDP will be allocated to defence, 1.2% in 2020, 1.3% in 2021, 1.4% in 2023 and 1.5% in 2024. These are the commitments that were made orally for now when NATO secretary general visited the country last year," Erjavec said.
Today's government decision on cancelling the EUR 306m deal was welcomed by the opposition Left. "After two years of opposition (to the purchase) we have finally managed to persuade the government that the purchase of the eight-wheeled armoured personnel carriers did not make sense," said MP Miha Kordiš.