The Slovenia Times

NATO Skills Centre Recognition for Army, Chance for Business


The centre is viewed as a recognition for the Slovenian army, but also an economic opportunity. Located in Alpine country in northern Slovenia, NATO's Multinational Centre of Excellence for Mountain Warfare will oversee the development of mountain warfare doctrines and is expected to build on Slovenia's extensive know-how in this field.

Given its long tradition and expertise, the country bid to host the mountain warfare centre since joining NATO in 2004, Lieutenant Boštjan Blaznik has told the STA. Activities to this end were stepped up last year, when the government authorised the Defence Ministry and army general command to establish the centre and obtain accreditation.

Following a year of work, the centre will be formally established in Poljče, not far from the picturesque Lake Bled, with the signing of a memorandum on 25 March. The first accreditation visit is scheduled to follow in April.

Along with Slovenia, another four countries are initially expected to be active in the centre: Italy, Austria, Germany and Croatia. Blaznik expects more countries to join once accreditation is completed, saying that there is significant interest.

Initially, the cost of implementing its programme is estimated at around EUR 400,000. With more countries expected to join, this could rise, but Slovenia's share will depreciate as the costs will be distributed among the participating nations.

Slovenia has actively developed skills in mountain warfare for as long as it has had its own army. In 1996 it took a step to advancing know-how and skills in this area by launching a Mountain Warfare School.

The work of the school, which has nearly 500 members, is complemented with the activities of the Association of Mountain Troops of Slovenia. "The addition of the centre will mean that we will boast a three-tier system," said retired Brigadier Janez Kavar, a long-time head of the association.

While the school focuses on training soldiers and developing skills, the job of the excellence centre will be to develop tactics, standards and comprehensive doctrine. It will also help compile study materials and conduct research activities.

"What is expected of Slovenia is that it will guide the drafting of a doctrine of mountain warfare for NATO. This very demanding task constitutes our mid-term plan," said Blaznik, who expects the doctrine to be formed by 2018.

Kavar says that Slovenia's hosting of the excellence centre is a testament to its achievements in mountain warfare. With a history in this area dating back to involvement in the Isonzo Front during WWI coupled with its accomplishments in mountaineering, Slovenia is globally recognised as a mover in the field.

"All this counts for something in global military arena, which makes the opening of the centre a great acknowledgement," he added.

In addition to being an opportunity for the Slovenian army to showcase its expertise, the centre is also expected to present an important business opportunity, especially as the country has focused on developing high-tech mountain warfare gear for harsh conditions.

One such example is special folding skis by sports equipment manufacturer Elan, whose headquarters are located in the neighbouring village of Begunje. Elan has already filed for a patent for the skis.

While the centre is seen as a major opportunity, it has also stoked fears among a section of Slovenia's sizeable army of recreational hikers and climbers that the serenity of Slovenia's Alpine lands could be spoilt by marauding groups of soldiers seeking some high-altitude shooting practice.

These fears have been quickly shot down by Kavar, who says that training is not what the centre is about, while highlighting that soldiers have proven to be very responsible mountaineers.

This has been echoed by deputy president of the Slovenian Alpine Association Miro Eržen, who says that cooperation between mountaineers and the army has been long-standing and exemplary.

Indeed, Slovenian mountaineers have helped train many troops, while the army provided many mountaineers with equipment and has contributed greatly to upkeep of mountain paths and huts.


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