French army to arrive at Tapa this month, bringing Leclerc tanks

Leclerc MBT in action at the EDF's central polygon during a previous deployment.
Leclerc MBT in action at the EDF's central polygon during a previous deployment. Source: NATO Battlegroup Estonia

A French army contingent is due to arrive in Estonia later this month, on a twelve-month rotation based at Tapa. The deployment both gives an opportunity for greater cooperation between the French and Estonian militaries – which already serve together in the West African country of Mali – and also sees several Leclerc Main Battle Tanks (MBT) coming to Tapa.

M. Eric Lamouroux, ambassador of France to Estonia, said:  "The extension of the deployment time and the doubling of tanks demonstrates France's willingness to get involved in the protection of its close allies."

"The presence of the French military in Estonia is all the more significant as we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our countries," he added.

Defense minister Kalle Laanet (Reform) said as one of Estonia's key allies, the move was welcome.

Laanet said: "France is also a nuclear state, whose presence in the Baltic Sea region undoubtedly acts as a significant deterrent."

Serving alongside each other in Estonia as well as Mali gives greater opportunities to learn tactical skills and cameraderie, he added.

This will be the third time French contingents have served in Estonia since the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup, based at Tapa, became a reality in early 2017, with the rotation period this time extended to 12 months from the earlier eight.

It will comprise close to 300 personnel, primarily at Tapa, east of Tallinn, home of the eFP, which is U.K.-led and organizationally a part of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) 1st Infantry Brigade.

Eric Lamouroux, the French Ambassador to Estonia, noted the strategic partnership declaration signed between President Macron and then-Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center), which he called ambitious, and also saluted the efforts of the EDF in Mali, where it sends an infantry platoon and other personnel, to the provincial city of Gao, as part of Operation Barkhane – a counter-terrorism, anti-human trafficking initiative France has installed across several Sahel region countries.

France has also contributed twice so far to the separate NATO Baltic Air Policing duties at Ämari air base, most recently in 2020 after the pandemic had already arrived, requiring extra effort in the logistics of getting personnel and materiel to Estonia.

The Leclerc entered service in the early 1990s. Its main armament is its GIAT CN120-26/52 120mm tank gun, while its armor consists of composite titanium and semi-reactive layers.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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