New ministry website outlines military development post-independence ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

13th infantry battalion in action in exercise Spring Storm 2020
13th infantry battalion in action in exercise Spring Storm 2020 Source: mil.ee

A new defense ministry website provides an overview of how Estonia's defense forces have developed since the restoration of independence, including moves towards making its prime two infantry brigades fully mechanized, artillery procurement, and the impacts, benefits and responsibilities of NATO membership.

Defense minister Jüri Luik (Isamaa) says Estonia's defense forces, which includes both the regular Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) and its reserves, and the volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit) consistently moving towards a fully-manned and truly combat-effective set-up, with mechanized ground units and personnel getting maximum protection. 

"As of now, the 1st Infantry Brigade Scout Battalion's the Armored Infantry Battalion is equipped with the [Swedish-made] Combat Vehicle 90, whose firepower, mobility and protection are world-class," he said, via a ministry press release.

The new website, which is available in English here, also provides up-to-date information on training progress for both regular and reserve personnel, investment details and the EDF's contribution to international operations such as the French-led counter-terrorist and human trafficking Operation Barkhane, which sees an EDF platoon and other personnel based in Gao, Mali.

Society's view of Estonia's defense is also covered.

NATO contributions, duties

Estonia joined NATO over 16 years ago and has maintained its contribution to the required 2 percent of GDP – making it part of a group of nations which continues to rise and which also sees Estonia, while low by NATO standards in terms of nominal defense spending, at the high end of NATO states by expenditure on special defense equipment.

NATO's collective aspect is key in Estonia's defense, Luik said.

Data shows the Ministry of Defense invested a total of nearly €338 million in defense procurement, infrastructure, IT services, property management, outsourced catering and various economic expenses. 53 percent, or slightly more than half of the money was chanelled into the Estonian economy.

The U.K.-led NATO Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP), also featuring Danish, French and Belgian personnel at various times, arrived in Tapa in 2017 and is supported by domestic troops; the Baltic Air policing mission, currently patrolled by German Air Force planes, flies from Ämari and has been in existence since 2004.

Focus on mechanized infantry, anti-tank systems, artillery

One of the signature notes of an independent Estonia's armed forces has been its transformation from using conventional vehicles such as trucks, to proper armored tracked vehicles and trucks for transporting personnel, a move which really got underway from 2005, Luik says. This needs to be accompanied by adequate training facilities, which Luik says has also been boosted.

The 2017-2026 national defense development plan also aims to convert the 1st Infantry Brigade into a fully mechanized heavy infantry brigade, and the 2nd brigade into its combat capable, light infantry (but motorized) counterpart, as well as introducing 10 new light infantry companies and around 1,000 personnel.

Number of Estonia's armored units 1998–2022 Source: Ministry of Defense

The diagram above shows the development of Estonia's military since the 1990s. (Mehhaniseeritud jalaväepataljon = Mechanized infantry battalion, Soomusjalaväepataljon = armored infantry battalion, Liikursuurtükipataljon = Self-propelled artillery battalion, Mehhaniseeritud jalaväekompanii = mechanized infantry company, Soomusjalaväekompanii = armored infantry company, tugevdatud kompanii = reinforced company).

The operation of the defense league will also be improved under the plan. 

"Effective military training can only be ensured if the necessary armaments and equipment, training areas and infrastructure of sufficient size and number are available," Luik said, noting there are seven such training areas in Estonia now. 

Other improved capabilities include the acquisition of Javelin, a U.S.-made anti-tank missile system, and the forthcoming [Israeli-built] EuroSpike anti-tank system, and 155mm howitzers, which have boosted the EDF's practical artillery range to 30 kilometers (from about half that) and will be further augmented with the completion of the South Korean-made K9 Kõu self-propelled guns, the first of which are already in country.

The website provides an overview of independent Estonia's defense capability and how it has grown since the 1990s in all areas, as well as support from the domestic defense industry, such as Milrem Robotics, and research and development. 

Jüri Luik has seen four terms as defense minister, spanning almost the entire period following the restoration of independence, the current and previous term being consecutive stints under Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center). Before that he was defense minister under Mart Laar, twice (1993-1994 and 1999-2001). 

The website, in English, is here.

Foreign citizens can join the Defense League

Pursuant to Estonian law, foreign citizens may become supporting members of the Defense League, which would include the chance to become involved in its many of its activities. More information is here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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