Defense procurement center: State-of-the art rifle deliveries continuing

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Officers and NCOs getting acquainted with the LMT R-20 Rahe, following the initial batch arriving last year. Source: Oliver Turp

Deliveries of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) new, primary rifle, the R20 Rahe, continue apace despite the coronavirus pandemic, the Center for Defense Investment (RKK), the state body tasked with defense procurement, says.

The bulk of the outstanding delivery of the assault rifle, the R20 Rahe, should arrive in Estonia in 2021. The entire procurement will total 18,340 pieces.

The RKK says that the new weapon's main advantages are its modularity, which permits users to change barrels and thus caliber of the weapon (between 368mm and 318mm – ed.).

Another feature is a counter which provides information on how much a weapon has been used – i.e. how many rounds it has fired off through its existence – which provides a better picture of the rifle's life cycle and on when it may require full maintenance or, ultimately, decommissioning, the RKK says.

It will replace the EDF's Swedish-made Ak 4 and Israeli-made IMI Galil rifles, and will also see use by the volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit), which augments the regular EDF.

Deliveries were held up by the arrival of the pandemic last year, although the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) were able to take delivery of over 6,000 5.56 mm rifles and another 500 7.62 mm weapons, while most accessories, including optical sights, have also arrived, the RKK says.

The rifle has already seen use in the EDF's rotational deployment to the West African nation of Mali, where Estonia, via an EDF platoon and other personnel, supports a French counter-terrorism initiative in that country and across the Sahel region.

The final batch will arrive in the first half of 2022.

The primary weapon itself, the R-20 Rahe ("Hail" in Estonian) is manufactured by U.S. firm Lewis Machine Tools (LMT) as the he LMT Modular Ambidextrous Rifle System (MARS) - Light (MARS-L). The New Zealand Defense Force is one notable user of the rifle, which the RKK says is world-class in terms of user-friendliness, as well as accuracy.

The tender itself was quite a lengthy process, beginning in 2016, and saw a challenge from U.S. manufacturer SIG Sauer, who had also been in the running.

Ultimately LMT emerged as the company whose tender best fit the RKK's desired profile, the body says, while the contract was singed at LMT's headquarters in Iowa in 2019, paving the way for deliveries to commence the following year.

LMT's original tender offer in December 2018 came in at €22.7 million, compared with €27.6 from Sig Sauer. German firm Heckler & Koch, the third company to make the final shortlist, quoted a much higher figure of €45.5 million.

The original précis (in Estonian) of the R20 Rahe by RKK weapons procurement manager Ramil Lipp is here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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