The National Guard is upgrading its weapons systems so as to become a strong force of deterrence, while expanding defence and security cooperation with friendly nations, the defence minister said on Tuesday.

Charalambos Petrides was speaking in parliament during a presentation of his ministry’s budget for 2023, coming up for ratification at the House plenum next month.

For 2023, the defence ministry will spend close to €200 million on armaments alone. Purchases in the pipeline include Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, a modern air defence system, as well as six Airbus attack helicopters – replacing the ageing Russian Mi-35Ps.

At the same time, Petrides said, the National Guard will beef up its existing infrastructures and build new ones (ammo depots, prefab buildings, warehouses), and expand its fleet of vehicles – trucks, excavators, and search & rescue vessels.

The minister highlighted in particular the country’s focus on ‘defence diplomacy’. This includes bilateral agreements with more than 15 countries, and participation of the armed forces in multinational drills. The Republic also signed a bilateral cooperation programme with Germany, involving for the first time the placement of a defence attache.

On defence relations with the United States, Petrides noted the full lifting of the embargo on arms sales to Cyprus, as well as the island’s participation in International Military Education & Training programmes, Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreements, and the National Guard’s inclusion in a State Partnership Programme with the state of New Jersey.

Meantime over the past two years the Search & Rescue Coordination Center has organised 41 exercises (of which 10 were multinational), investigated 375 cases, and executed 118 operations resulting in the rescue of 679 people.

In the drive to create a ‘national research and innovation ecosystem’, the defence ministry has called for tenders for projects involving dual-use technologies, having drawn some €3 million from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility.

Domestically, digitisation is being applied to the recruitment and placement of conscripts, as well as tracking males eligible for reservist duty.

The defence ministry is also pursuing environmental policies, cutting back on operational costs with the installation of 2,200 LED lights this year, and a further 4,400 LEDs in 2023.

In remarks after the minister’s presentation, ruling Disy MP Giorgos Karoullas said the defence ministry “is transforming the Republic of Cyprus and the National Guard into a reliable and active partner, a provider of security and defence in Cyprus, the eastern Mediterranean and the world.”

For his part, Akel MP Costas Costa said that until such time as reunification, the National Guard must remain a combat-ready force capable of deterring any foreign threats and hostile actions.