NATO voices reservist readiness concern ahead of scaled-down Spring Storm

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Last year's Spring Storm in progress. Source: ERR

Some NATO sources have expressed concern over a lack of armed forces reservists available ahead of this year's large scale Exercise Spring Storm (Kevadtorm). Despite the number of reservists required to attend being halved to 2,500 earlier this year, only around 300 are reportedly being summoned.

Estonia's armed forces primarily comprise the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) – which includes maritime, air, military police, cyber warfare and other arms, bolstered by the volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit).

The EDF is a few thousand strong as regards regular troops, both volunteers and conscripts, with lists of well over 20,000 reservists, eligible for service in the years following their service period.

The Defense League is around 22,250-strong, and draws its strength territorially.

Personnel from the latter in particular have the option to go on exercise in the fall, instead of at Spring Storm.

Given the coronavirus pandemic considerations, numbers at this year's Spring Storm were likely to be lower than in previous years, as they were in 2020 as the virus spread.

In November, then-defense minister Jüri Luik (Ismaa) signed an order to call up over 5,000 reservists for Spring Storm 2021, but EDF General Staff training team commander Col. Mati Tikerpuu says, continuing high COVID-19 rates have forced several changes starting in February, when some pre-Spring Storm training exercises were abandoned.

NATO feels that the frequency and volume of reservist training is insufficient to maintain combat readiness, a recent report compiled for the government said, something which in turn could adversely affect capabilities.

However, Col. Tikerpuu says, this is far from a general NATO assessment, but just the view from some quarters.

"There is no such standard that would inform NATO member states how frequently they have to update their reserve units," he said (NATO does have a Combat Readiness Evaluation – CREVAL – but this does not go smaller than company-size and so is not available for assessing the readiness of individual soldiers, particularly reservists, and also smaller units).

The EDF itself is confident in its own reservists training, with the main concern being getting this across to allies – those who have on-the-ground experience with Estonia's personnel have been satisfied with what they have seen, he says, while assessment evaluation methodologies will be developed by the EDF, in conjunction with the Defense Forces Academy (KVAK) for next year. At the same time, work needs to be done even before the results of this assessment, Col. Tikerpuu said, to ensure reservist units do not get rusty.

Last year, over 4,500 reservists were summonsed, while 1,245 actually attended training.

As noted this year and following a decision last week, the figure is 300, with all reservists affected to be contacted soon.

Those that do attend will be subject to coronavirus tests, while units taking part will be kept as segregated as possible, Col. Tikerpuu said.

While Defense League personnel will take part in Spring Storm as well, the bulk of its personnel likely to be involved in any military exercise this year as things stand will do so in fall for Exercise Hurricane (Orkaan) 2021, an exercise which was, conversely to Spring Storm, increased in size and scope last autumn.

As always, the changing epidemiological situation may lead to amendments to plans between now and then.

Exercise Siil ("Hedgehog"), another large-scale annual exercise, is scheduled next to take place in 2022.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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