President Milanović: Bradley fighting vehicle satisfies the needs of Croatian Armed Forces and solves the problem of equipment of Croatian Ground Forces

07. January 2022.

“The Croatian Ground Forces are the biggest and most important part of the defence system and the equipment and modernisation of the Croatian Ground Forces has a strategic importance for the Republic of Croatia. Without equipping the Croatian Ground Forces with infantry combat vehicles on caterpillar tracks there is no long-term increase in the defence capabilities of the Republic of Croatia. My only goal as the Commander in Chief is to provide the Croatian Ground Forces with the necessary combat equipment, and that is my key role in the story about Bradleys,” the President of the Republic Zoran Milanović told a press conference at which he spoke about the need for modernizing and equipping the Croatian Ground Forces.

He recalled that the possibility of acquiring US Bradley fighting vehicles for the needs of the Croatian Ground Forces was considered as far back as 2017 four years ago.

“It should be emphasized that we, the Republic of Croatia, requested a concrete offer for Bradley vehicles from the US as a partner country, taking into account that the US is Croatia’s strategic defence partner. The introduction of the Bradley fighting vehicle into the Croatian Armed Forces was included in a number of official documents and plans that deal with the development of the defence system. The project of equipping the armed forces with the Bradley fighting vehicles was included in all the draft proposals of the new Long-Term Development Plan of the Croatian Armed Forces. In the chapter ‘A Stronger Croatian Army’ of the 2020-2024 Government programme it is clearly written: “By the end of 2021, the equipping of the Croatian Army with Bradley fighting vehicles will be completed. So, the former Minister of Defence Krstičević and the incumbent Minister Banožić have made public statements that there are plans for the Croatian Ground Forces to be supplied with Bradley vehicles,” President Milanović recalled.

According to the President, acquiring US Bradley fighting vehicles was the most favourable and acceptable solution for equipping the Croatian Ground Forces due to the offered price, but also due to the short time needed to procure the vehicles, with the US offer amounting to a total of about $150 million.

President Milanović recalled that the offer is based on a mix of donation, investment and equipment purchase. A total of 84 Bradley M2A2 ODS vehicles would be donated, of which 62 vehicles are for combat use and 22 vehicles for spare parts. Apart from the vehicles, 62 cannons, 34 machine guns and 41 radios would be donated. In addition to the fighting vehicles and equipment, the offer includes a $45 million financial donation for service and upgrade, for weapons, simulators, training, tools, transportation, etc.

“It is especially important that the military leadership of the Croatian Armed Forces is united in its conclusion that this is a good offer. The Chief of the General Staff of the Croatian Armed Forces, who is the chief military adviser to the President of the Republic and the Minister of Defence, has proposed that the US offer be accepted because, according to the tactical study and analysis of the Croatian Armed Forces General Staff for the selection of infantry combat vehicles, the US offer was assessed as optimal,” President Milanović continued, explaining why the army backed the offer to acquire Bradley fighting vehicles.

“The Croatian Ground Forces must form a medium infantry brigade in order to bring the defence system to the level of development that we have set for ourselves and that we need to defend Croatia. The formation of the medium infantry brigade is one of the main goals in terms of capabilities, which we accepted as a member of NATO. Bradley fighting vehicles would be the main weapon in the medium infantry brigade, along with the Patria armoured vehicle, and they are necessary for the unit to exist at all. However, equipping with the Bradley would only partially fulfil the goal of equipping this brigade. The General Staff of the Croatian Armed Forces estimates that we need an additional three billion kunas to equip the remaining components of the brigade. For example, we need 30 additional Patria armoured vehicles with reinforced firepower and additional equipment for artillery combat support, air defence, combat engineering, communications, intelligence support, collective protection and logistical support (off-road vehicles and trucks). The General Staff of the Croatian Armed Forces believes that the American offer should be accepted because the main weapon would be acquired at a relatively favourable cost. Thus, it would be easier to secure funding to fulfil the remaining equipment needs of the medium infantry brigade,” said President Milanović.

We are aware of the risks, he added, related to vehicle maintenance and the purchase of spare parts. “But the cooperation offered by the US and the experience we have so far with US partners, and the capacities of Croatian industry make this risk surmountable,” the President said, pointing to the fact that the acquisition of Bradleys would have a positive impact on the industrial sector in Croatia, notably the Đuro Đaković company. Namely, representatives of the US Army and vehicle manufacturers BAE Systems have on several occasions inspected and assessed the capacities of the Đuro Đaković company, and have come to the conclusion that the Đuro Đaković company has the ability to adopt capacities for servicing and upgrading combat vehicles, and even for the production of some spare parts. He recalled that the management of Đuro Đaković has confirmed that they are interested and capable of entering the Bradley project.

“It is not clear why the Government needs so much time and so many meetings and briefings to come to a decision. And why is the Prime Minister only now talking about the Bradleys with the military leadership? This shows that either his people at the Ministry of Defence are not doing a good job or (the Prime Minister) does not trust his Minister of Defence. The conduct of the Government and the Prime Minister in this case sends a message to other potential partners and investors that no important decision can be made without the personal engagement of the Prime Minister. This disrupts the work of institutions. Reconsidering the US offer at the eleventh hour, as the Prime Minister is now doing, undermines the partnership with the US and the impression is being created that the US is trying to take us for a ride and dump the scrap iron on us. That is such a frivolous suggestion that it does not deserve serious attention. The defence cooperation we have had with the US so far shows that we can trust them. We have over 25 years of experience in defence cooperation, which was mainly geared towards developing the Croatian Armed Forces into a capable force in order for Croatia to contribute to Euro-Atlantic security, and not to be a burden,” said President Milanović.

The seriousness of the US as a partner is confirmed by the US administration’s decision to ensure additional financial assistance in the amount of $45 million for Croatia, which has been approved by the US Congress. Furthermore, the US Department of Defence stated in a memo from 23 December 2021 that it would be possible to provide an additional 11 million dollars. This is a total of $56 million in financial donations.

President Milanović warned that this offer has a strategic political importance for Croatia: “This offer would ensure the continuation of our very successful defence cooperation with the country that has one of the strongest armed forces and the biggest military industry in the world. The Minnesota National Guard uses the same version of the Bradley vehicles offered to Croatia. During his visit last year, the Commander of the Minnesota National Guard stressed that the Minnesota National Guard is ready to provide all necessary support to Croatia to successfully introduce the Bradley fighting vehicles in its army units and to adequately maintain them.”

The President believes that the Government could and should have made the decision earlier, without waiting until the last minute. “It was necessary to take into account the opinions of the army and be more determined. The Government must make a decision by the end of January because the offer cannot and will not be extended after that,” President Milanović emphasized and said the following in conclusion: “The Bradley fighting vehicle has proved to be a successful platform for armour warfare. Bradley M2A2 ODS satisfies the needs of Croatian Armed Forces and solves the problem of equipment of Croatian Ground Forces, and there is no other solution in the offing. This offer is favourable because the purchase of brand new vehicles from other producers could be as much as five to eight times more expensive per vehicle. The engagement of the Slavonski Brod Đuro Đaković Group to service the vehicles could provide an additional impetus and advantage for the Croatian industry. Accepting the offer ensures the continuation of proven and for Croatia very successful cooperation with the US, a strategic partner in the field of defence.”

PHOTO: Office of the President of the Repblic of Croatia / Tomislav Bušljeta