AK: Defense plan must consider existing capabilities as well as new ones

Jüri Luik (Isamaa), the Minister of Defence, signing an agreement
Jüri Luik (Isamaa), the Minister of Defence, signing an agreement Source: The Ministry of Defence (Kaitseministeerium)

A new national defense development plan is in the process of being drawn up, and will take into account existing capabilities, as well as potential new ones, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Friday evening.

The plan follows previous such strategies; for instance short-range Mistral air defense missiles are to be procured for €30 million, for use in the existing systems purchased a decade ago, and radar systems need improving or replacing, AK reported.

"Together with the U.S., we are dealing with other types of radar issues - which are related to air defense. We are also looking at opportunities for naval radar tracking warships at sea," Minister of Defense Jüri Luik (Isamaa) told AK.

The minister's words follow a recent clash with finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE), who Luik said was sticking his oar in in defense issues.

Helme has called for making defense spending cuts, but then borrowing in order to make specific purchases – namely air defense and coastal defense systems. This has led to accusations, or at least implications, of graft, since at least one foreign defense company presented weapons systems in the above categories to the Riigikogu's defense committee earlier in the year. Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) denies this charge, however.

Estonia regularly meets its 2 percent of GDP defense spending NATO membership requirement.

Luik noted that coordinating spend with neighboring states and in particular Latvia and Lithuania is and will be prudent – joint procurement of ammunition has already happened and Lithuanian medium-range anti-aircraft missles and Latvian anti-tank missiles complement Estonia's capabilities.

Replacement of aging mine-sweeping and mine-hunting vessels is also a priority for all three countries, Luik said.

Coordination with Finland still remains one of the most successful areas, however, Luik said.

"We have often tried to find Baltic cooperation for some technological solutions. But I have to admit that we have been more successful in cooperation with the Finns," Luik told AK

Reform MP and former Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) commander Ants Laaneots, who sits on the Riigikogu national defense committee, said that budgets notwithstanding, larger systems were needed in coastal considerations along the lines of those highlighted by Martin Helme, due partly to the presence of the highly-militarized Kaliningrad exclave, sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland.

"The Kaliningrad region has a fully manned naval brigade that has diligently trained on naval landings. Indeed, we do not resolve the issue of coastal protection, this may even be considered criminal neglect," Laaneots told AK.

Laaneots also hit out at the relative reduction in Estonian defense personnel since the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea. Whereas then, Estonia's armed forces were around four times smaller than those of Finland, now the ratio is more like 13 times, Laaneots said, noting that manpower was not an issue – 60,000 reservists having completed their military service.

Jüri Luik said that boots on the ground were only helpful when twinned with the requisite armor, communications, ammunition, infrastructure and logistics, however.

A recently-launched defense ministry website reveals the extent to which focus has and continues to be making the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) main infantry brigades fully mechanized, continued development of reservists and the volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit) as well as focussing on anti-tank weapons and artillery, including SP guns, all in conjunction with Estonia's NATO allies based at Tapa and Ämari.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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