AK: 2021 Defense spending to reach record level ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

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South Korean-made K9 self-propelled howitzer being tested in Estonia. Source: Janvar Pitelkov/ Ministry of Defense

The defense budget for 2021 will amount to 2.3 percent of Gross Domestic Product, the highest level since restoration of independence, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Sunday night.

The rise is partly the result of weapon systems procured late on this year, including coastal missile systems. The nominal minimum domestic defense spend required of NATO members is 2 percent of GDP per annum.

The Center for Defense Investment (RKK), the body tasked with defense procurement, has started the procurement process for these, in conjunction with the Estonian Navy (Merevägi), a policy which has also found commonality with neighboring Latvia's aims.

RKK director Kusti Salm told AK that: "AS of today, I think we are in a unique situation where Latvia's needs fall more or less in the same time frame, and are more or less the same [as Estonia's]. As a result, we are taking into account the possibility of joint [coastal defense] procurement, with Latvia."

Both countries are NATO members.

While the focus is on coastal defense – which also includes the deployment of sea mines – for 2021, mid-range air defense is not in the picture as had previously been thought, Reform MP, former commander of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) and Riigikogu defense committee member Gen. Ants Laaneots told AK.

"This is an issue which can no longer be resolved next year, since no funds were found for the purpose, but instead next year and so on," Gen. Laaneots went on, saying that the Russian Federation wishes to exert control over the Baltic region in general and the airspace over the Baltic Sea in particular.

Kusti Salm said around €180 million in defense investment will find its way into the Estonian economy, with a great proportion of that allocated to construction.

While the EDF's 1st Brigade is the main recipient of investment at present, in the coming years the focus will shift to the 2nd Brigade, Salm said.

AK also noted the importance of Estonia's domestic defense industry, including Milrem Robotics, whose unmanned, tracked vehicles are being developed in conjunction with the state and are setting standard for Europe, as well as continued procurement of self-propelled (SP) howitzers, namely the South Korean-made K9, whose first units started to arrive in Estonia in the fall.

Close to 20 more units are due to arrive next year and the year after, AK reported, though Gen. Laaneots cautioned against removing existing 122 mm (H63 (D-30) Soviet-era fixed howitzers purchased from Finland in 2009 – ed.) and [FH70] 155 mm howitzers, also towed rather than SP, which predated the K9s, so as not to lead to an under-gunned artillery or gaps in air defense cover.

"If we look at what kind of heavy artillery the Russians have across all units, the preponderance is still depressing in fact," Gen. Laaneots said.

The report also noted the 1,500 new LMT automatic weapons delivered in summer, which will be followed by a further 4,000 units for conscript training.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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