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With consolidation of Hungarian economy there is more money for defence

Staff Writer |
In the past few years, with the consolidation of the Hungarian economy, there has been more money also for defence, Defence Minister Tibor Benko stressed in an interview given to the Hungarian news agency MTI.

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Benko said, after a series of organisational changes, he is in charge of the General Command of the Hungarian Defence Forces as minister, and leadership falls within the commander’s duties. The defence forces must be led by a soldier, not a politician.

He recalled that the government had agreed in a resolution to ensure that, with an annual 0.1 per cent raise, Hungary would reach the 2 per cent defence budget to GDP by 2024.

However, in the wake of the performance of the Hungarian economy, the 1.07 per cent rate planned for last year eventually increased to 1.4 per cent. Therefore, according to the Minister, if the pace of growth continues, they will be able to meet the 2 per cent to GDP target sooner than planned.

He highlighted that the budget of the Zrínyi 2026 Defence and Armed Forces Development Programme is secure.

Mr Benko" was chief of staff for 8 years at the integrated Ministry of Defence. He said he is therefore able to read the minds of soldiers when he has to make decisions, and is familiar with the difficulties and challenges that military leaders and political leaders are compelled to face. He pointed out that military leadership must be independent of party politics.

Hungary’s security comes first, and this requires a Hungarian army which is staffed with adequately prepared and trained soldiers and is equipped with the latest, cutting-edge weaponry.

The developments currently under way serve this purpose, he stressed, adding that, as part of this effort, they will also transform the army’s leadership in the next six months. The duty of the Ministry will be to create the necessary conditions, including the availability of funds, and to oversee the implementation of the tasks identified.

“It is not for political leaders, but for soldiers to decide what kind of military vehicles and aircraft are required”, the Minister highlighted, taking the view that the new leadership structure will give the commander of the Hungarian Defence Forces extensive independence, but also extreme responsibility.

Mr Benko" also said that they had fixed the staff of the defence forces at 37,500. They are planning to reach this number gradually by 2026, subject to the tasks in hand and the staff they require.

One such task is, for instance, that Hungary agreed to offer NATO a medium brigade by 2023 and a heavy brigade by 2028. To honour this undertaking, in addition to soldiers, the army must also procure artillery equipment, tanks, anti-aircraft weapons, transport aircraft and helicopters.

The Minister said that, due to the ageing and shortage of technical equipment, the air force was on the verge of extinction.

This is why they started the development of the armed forces with the air force.

In addition to the procurements announced and implemented to date, in the next phase they will buy aircraft with rear-loading ramps which are also suitable for the transportation and landing of heavy technical equipment.

At the same time, the defence forces are also required to transport people in smaller groups, and so they require smaller aircraft as well. One of the Falcons procured to serve this need is suitable for special, multi-purpose assignments. It is currently being converted for military purposes.

Two new helicopters will be added to the helicopter fleet. The existing Russian helicopters have undergone major servicing, and so they can be kept in service until the new helicopters are delivered to Hungary.

Regarding air defence, he said in the first six months of the year they are planning to procure a new missile complex system and the necessary missiles.

Mr Benko highlighted that ground forces are also in need of development. In connection with this, they are reviving the Hungarian arms industry, as part of which arms will be manufactured in Hungary on the basis of a Czech licence, but will be adjusted to the specific Hungarian needs.

Serial production in the Kiskunfélegyháza plant will begin this year. With the arms made in this factory they will supply not only soldiers, but also other armed agencies, in addition to exports. They are further planning to launch the production of gunpowder and ammunition in Hungary.

The Minister said the development of a reserve force organised on a territorial basis is making good progress.

They wish to increase the number of voluntary reservists from 8,000 to 20,000 in the next ten years. They have established two territorial regiments, and the replenishment of the companies to be set up in districts around the country is ongoing.

He said defence forces succession and addressing young people are priority goals.

This is why they provide defence education, offer various scholarship schemes, operate a successful cadet training programme, and are in the process of extending the network of military secondary schools and boarding facilities.

At present, there is a military secondary school only in Debrecen, but the construction of an institution in Hódmezo"vásárhely will begin soon.

He also highlighted that last year some 1,500 young people attended 47 military camps. This year, they are planning to organise 72 camps with the attendance of almost 2,200 youths.

Mr Benko said the balance of the defence forces is positive: there are more young people enrolling in the army than those leaving the defence forces.

There are more and more of them, but this percentage must be increased, he stressed, adding that to this end they are seeking to make the military career more attractive, on the one hand, with new technological devices and cutting-edge equipment, and on the other by offering a predictable career.

In the defence career model they are offering a set of fringe benefits which includes, over and above the ordinary pay, a number of allowances, such as child raising benefits and benefits for children starting school.

He observed that in 2015, for the first time since 2002, there was a pay rise in the defence forces.

He pointed out that, while “after 13 years of fasting, everyone was hungry for a pay rise”, he initiated that in the first round lower-ranked officers should be given a higher pay rise as many of them were struggling with day-to-day living problems. However, the latest average 5 per cent increase implemented in January applied to everyone.

Between 2015 and 2019, the pay of soldiers increased by 50 per cent on average. At the same time, Benko also said that since 2015 the competitive advantage of the defence forces on the labour market had almost evaporated, and this is why they had to start revising the pay system.

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