Focus on the Total Defense

To find out more about where Georgia stands militarily, GEORGIA TODAY spoke to Lela Chikovani, First Deputy Minister of Defense, in an exclusive interview.

What changes did the Ministry make last year to Georgia's mandatory conscription program?

The notion of Total Defense, introduced by the Ministry of Defense (MoD) in the “Strategic Defense Review 2017-2020” document (SDR) places significant emphasis on the role and proper functioning of the military conscription system. We introduced a qualitatively improved conscription. More specifically, we significantly increased the training load for conscripts by involving them in the standard GAF Basic Combat Training (BCT) program, which is then followed by sustainment training. Conscripts also enjoy free weekend privilege and higher salaries. 1400 conscripts were drafted in spring and are undergoing training with different units of the GAF. Not least, the trained conscripts constitute a continued supply line for military reserve, a key component for a resilient national defense. Additional options for further development of the conscription mechanisms are also being reviewed.

What steps did the Ministry take in terms of increasing Georgia’s self-defense capabilities?

The Total Defense concept has been recognized by the MoD as a key concept featuring national defense policy to respond to existing threats and challenges. The mission of territorial defense has been elevated and put forth, which makes a sharp contrast to the past priorities of the GAF, oriented towards creating a more deployable and peacekeeping mission force. Improving the overall readiness of the GAF and combat capabilities of units became a key priority, which prompted the MoD leadership to seek new initiatives and mechanisms. In this regard, the Georgian Defense Readiness Program (GDRP), implemented in partnership with the US, has a particular importance. GDRP aims at providing training to Georgian military personnel and commanders, and envisages institutional mechanisms for manning, equipping, training and sustaining units to significantly improve GAF combat capabilities and defensibility of the country.

The new “Total Defense” approach places great emphasis on enhancing interagency cooperation as a way to ensure the whole-of-nation approach and effective use of all national resources to defend the country. The interagency pillar is the cornerstone of effective planning and implementation, which the MoD routinely tests during the annual strategic “Didgori” exercise and other activities at operational or tactical levels. As one of the key components of “Total Defense,” we have focused on the development of a new Reserve and Mobilization System (RMS). The new system introduces active reserve service, based on voluntary participation and includes “Army Reserve”, “Territorial Reserve” and “Specialists Reserve” to provide support to the armed forces and to develop territorial defense capabilities. In 2018, two company level units will be trained under the pilot project, which will be subsequently analyzed for further improvement of the RMS.

Specific measures, aimed at increasing Georgia’s self-defense capabilities, are outlined in the Strategic Defense Review 2017-2020 document. The document determines the GAF-structure for 2020, sets out a number of optimization measures to erase functional duplication and structural (rank) disbalance of the armed forces, identifies priority areas for GAF development, and facilitates capability and institutional development of the defense system. All actions identified under the SDR make up a considerable share of the “Transformation Plan” approved by the MoD, which itself follows five major lines:

• Strategic Management and Direction

• Force Optimization

• Force Readiness

• Institutional Development

• International Cooperation

All five pillars are supportive to each other and contribute to the effective implementation of national defense objectives.

The SDR analysis identified a list of critical capability requirements without which Georgia cannot provide effective self-defense and credible deterrence, thus turning those to top priorities for resource allocation:

• Anti-Armor

• Air Defense

• Artillery

• Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR)

• Counter Mobility

In order to provide required funding for the development of the abovementioned capabilities, freed funds resulted from optimization have been allocated in line with the SDR 2017-2020. Moreover, compared to 2016, we increased the funding for the infrastructural projects and armament acquisition. In 2018, we will spend 18% of the defense budget on major systems acquisition and will continue to work in the mid and long-term perspective on achieving the standard set by the North Atlantic Alliance to allocate 20% of the defense budget for modernization and major systems acquisition.

How many civilian and military personnel did the Ministry dismiss within the frames of the optimization process in 2016? Does the ministry plan reorganization this year?

Facing the challenge of restructuring and optimizing the ministry and the GAF to increase the effectiveness and combat readiness of the forces, the Ministry made a difficult but inevitable decision to eliminate some positions and reduce the number of military and civilian personnel.

The overall share (67%) of salaries and social benefits in the defense budget left no space for improving combat readiness of units with little training, aging equipment and distorted rank structure. Commissions were created to manage the evaluation of individual competences and structural effectiveness/duplications of functions. The decision to dismiss officers was balanced by offering financial compensation in accordance with the military rank occupied. During the optimization process, 2250 individuals were discharged in 2017 (incl. 1750 civilians).

Defense Minister Levan Izoria stated the US will spend more than $100 million for Georgia’s Defense reform. How much will the US financial assistance to Georgia’s defense amount to in 2018?

The growth of cooperation intensity and dynamics between the US and Georgia is vivid proof of the solid confidence and trust in our strategic partnership and the reform efforts, the Georgian Ministry of Defense is undertaking. The US continued and increased their substantial support to Georgian defense reforms both in terms of capability and institutional development.

As a result of the coherent defense reform efforts of the current MoD administration, US-financial support has increased, which allowed us to accumulate in 2017 the US provided funds with the funds not spent in the years before and appropriate around $100 mln for the GDRP and other capability development programs to boost combat readiness of forces and ensure territorial defense of the country as well as interoperability with NATO-forces.

How are Georgia and the US going to boost mutual strategic cooperation in 2018?

The US-support to Georgian defense transformation efforts remains a key factor for successful development of the GAF. Over the last year, the cooperation dynamics increased and reached levels never imaginable before. The recognition of this growing dynamics and the strategic partnership with Georgia was manifested in the highest political meetings between the Georgian Prime Minister and the President of the United States, Vice President Pence’s visit to Georgia and the meeting between defense ministers in the Pentagon in 2017.

Naturally, the cornerstone of US-Georgia cooperation in 2018 is the launched US supported Georgian Defense Readiness Program (GDRP). It is a major body of the multi-year bilateral military planning framework and is designed to rapidly improve the combat readiness of Georgian units and further develop a self-sustaining institutional capacity to man, train, equip, and sustain a force prepared to accomplish assigned national missions under the National Defense Plan. Additional efforts are also underway to support GDRP and improve the training and evaluation capacity of GAF by building new training and simulation facilities such as the CTC (combat training center).

Another manifestation of the mutual strategic cooperation is the increased scale of training and exercises conducted in bilateral and multilateral formats. Exercises such as “Nobel Partner” and “Agile Spirit”, planned also for 2018, contribute to a much higher degree of NATO/US visibility and presence in Georgia and the region.

The State Department of the US on November 20, approved a possible Foreign Military Sale to Georgia for Javelin Missiles and Command Launch Units for an estimated cost of $75 million. When will Georgia be able to purchase these missiles?

The need to perform the mission of effective territorial defense prerequisites a credible set of capabilities that additionally increase the deterrence element of the GAF. Some of these critical capabilities are anti-armor, air defense and counter-mobility. The decision of the US-government to agree on delivering Javelin missile systems to Georgia and respective contract of purchase, signed by parties is an additional proof of the US confidence in the Georgian government and ministry of defense, in particular.

France is Georgia’s strategic partner and helps Georgia to develop its defense capabilities.

What are the Georgia-France cooperation plans for 2018?

NATO integration is one of Georgia’s major strategic objectives, representing the resolute and continuous choice of its population. Naturally, defense priorities reflect this choice and incorporate all mechanisms available to achieve NATO-membership. The SNGP (Substantial NATO Georgia Package) is the most important mechanism in this regard, allowing for effective implementation of plans, aimed at boosting national defense capabilities and resilience of forces, among which Air Defense is one of the most critical areas. Thus, we very much appreciate the cooperation with France in this regard, started several years ago.

The major aspect of Georgia-France cooperation plans for 2018 focuses on a contract aimed at enhancing the air defense capabilities of Georgia. Within the framework of the contract, special attention will be paid to training necessary personnel and prepare needed infrastructure for new air defense capabilities, to establish a NATO interoperable Air Operation Center and to implement other important measures. In the course of 2018, the first phase of the contract will be completed. Additional areas of cooperation include educational and training courses as well as exchange of expertise.

Does the Ministry plan to increase or decrease the Georgian contingent in international peacekeeping missions in 2018?

As a reliable partner and future alliance member, Georgia remains committed to its international obligations and will continue contributing to international security and confidence building measures. There will be no significant changes in the number of Georgian contingent participating in international peacekeeping missions in 2018, which will consist of approximately 900 individuals.

Additionally, Georgia will continue hosting and participating in NATO and international exercises.

When will the active military reserve service be introduced?

The newly developed “Reserve and Mobilization” system (RMS) went under intensive parliamentary, interagency and public scrutiny, is finalized and will be presented for governmental review in the weeks to come. At the moment, we are working on the pilot program of RMS (training of two territorial reserve companies) starting in 2018. The pilot program will help us assess the new approach and in case of additional resources, expand and further develop the system.

How is the Ministry’s 2018 budget distributed? Which are priority directions?

As a result of the effective and priority oriented defense planning in the MoD/GAF, as well as national defense priorities, the defense budget for 2018 has increased to GEL 802 mln. The MoD budgetary funds for 2018 (2% of GDP) allocated in 10 major programs are based on the modernization and capability development priorities and include GDRP along with the allocations to sustain and develop defense capabilities, logistical support, infrastructure, military training and education, etc.

In the budgetary planning and execution, the MoD was able to reduce the personnel and social benefits share in the defense budget down to 53% from 67%. In 2018, we’ll stick to our objective to appropriate 18% of the budgetary allocations for defense modernization and acquisition.

18 January 2018 18:04