Defence - Issue 131 - Magazine | Monocle

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Art of war


It’s hard to remember an empire that vanished a century ago but high up in the mountains of what is now Slovenia, a tribute to those who fought for it still exists. After a nerve-racking drive through the Triglav National Park from the town of Tolmin, and then a short trek higher into the Julian Alps, you reach the Memorial Church of the Holy Spirit at Javorca. This small church made largely of wood in an idyllic picture-postcard setting belies the proximity of this spot to the front line of a bloody war of attrition fought between Austria-Hungary and Italy in the First World War. Between March and November 1916, soldiers from all over the ethnically mixed Austro-Hungarian empire – many of them with carpentry skills – took time out from the trench warfare to build a church to the plans of Viennese artist and theatre set designer Remigius Geyling.

The exterior, adorned with the crests of the provinces that made up the empire – including Trieste, Bohemia, Silesia, Styria, Tyrol, Lower and Upper Austria – all makes for impressive pageantry. But it is in Geyling’s beautifully decorated Secession-era interior that the heterogeneous character of Austria-Hungary is made vividly clear. Our Slovenian guide Rok Cuder points out that some of the more than 2,500 names of fallen soldiers scorched into the surrounding oak panels include, among the Jozefs and Franzs, names such as Ahmet Camdzic or Ibrahim Goretic, both Bosnian Muslims who died for Vienna (and Budapest).

The Bosnians are among numerous ethnic groups who served in a very hierarchical imperial army where Austrians were always top dogs. Austria-Hungary’s defeat in the First World War signalled the collapse of the empire and before that, Rok says, mass desertion had been common. In fact, many Czech and Polish soldiers who defected and fought with the Italians were welcomed back as war heroes in their newly independent states after 1918. However, as we look out in the direction of where the front line ran, our guide tells us about the Hungarian, Polish and Austrian representatives who still visit here every year in acts of remembrance.

Big spender


India has joined the small cohort of countries that can land planes they’ve built themselves on aircraft carriers they own. The Indian-built hal Tejas combat plane recently completed its first landing on the Vikramaditya, a refurbished Soviet-built carrier.

The development is part of an effort to wean India off its reliance on foreign defence sources. “The Tejas project is a great symbol and its success – or failure – would be an important indicator of whether the emphasis on building domestic defence capabilities can succeed,” says Anit Mukherjee, former Indian army officer and author of The Absent Dialogue: Politicians, Bureaucrats and the Military in India.

India’s overseas spending spree is not over though. Recent buys include the Rafael Spike anti-tank guided missile from Israel and 13 bae Systems naval gun systems from the US.


Who’s buying and who’s selling? We keep you abreast of significant defence deals.

In the basket: 12 Lockheed Martin f-35 joint strike fighters
Who’s buying: Singapore
Who’s selling: The US
Price: $2.75bn (€2.5bn)
Delivery date: To be confirmed

Being such a compact nation, Singapore might seem an unlikely customer for military aircraft. But the tiny city-state finds room for a serious air force: Singapore can put more planes in the sky, should it need to, than Argentina, Sweden or Malaysia. This initial order of f-35bs to replace its creaking f-16s would give Singapore’s air force its first short takeoff and vertical-landing capability – potentially important, when runway space is at a premium.

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