The British Army's 5th Battalion, the Rifles ( RIFLES) may have already finished its recent rotation with the Tapa-based NATO Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) – the battalion's second stint in Estonia in fact – but a recent edition of NATO's Multinational Corps Northeast magazine, "Baltic Amber", got the low-down on progress while the unit was still in Estonia, including from its commanding officer, Lt Col. Jim Hadfield.
Lt Col. Hadfield told the magazine that: "Given our role, which is to contribute to the collective defense of Estonia, our first and primary task was of course to begin the process of integration with the 1st Brigade of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF), as well as with the Danish Vidar Company, which arrived here earlier this year (2020-ed.) and forms the other part of the NATO Battle Group here in Estonia."
From handover from 5 RIFLES' predecessor, 1st Fusiliers, in mid-September 2020 to Exercise Furious Axe south of the border in Latvia, just over a month later, the rotation had been a steep learning curve for all concerned, Lt. Col. Hadfield said, noting that his unit was the first from the U.K. to, so far, return to Estonia, since the eFP at Tapa became a reality in early 2017 – about 20 percent of the personnel this time around were at Tapa in 2017, since when the base and the surrounding town would have seen a major transformation in terms of facilities and development.
Commander of the Danish contingent, Lt. Col. Thomas Fogh, added some more context, saying that: "Since [the Vidar Company's arrival], the Danish troops have been focusing on integration with the UK and Estonian forces...With the UK contingent, we first went through this process with the 1st Fusiliers battle group and then again with the 5 RIFLES battle group, but the whole time we have also been on exercise a lot with the EDF's Scouts Battalion (Scoutspataljon) at Tapa, and learned a lot from them."
Lt Col. Hadfield noted that "Both the 5 RIFLES and the Danish Vidar Company have served in Estonia before, which has given us a certain advantage when it comes to the integration process," which means that: "Interoperability is of course multifaceted, but ultimately it is about the human connection.
Exercise Furious Axe also involved the multi-national Latvian eFP, which is Canadian-led, all of which contributed to a valuable exercise in inter-operability and communications efforts; eFP Estonia commander, Col. Paul Clayton noted that: "Access to training areas in neighboring countries also provides added opportunities … We certainly appreciate the training facilities we have in Estonia, but from various perspectives it is also important to be able to use training areas in Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland," adding that the training area in Latvia, at Adaži, near Riga, was that much larger – something which the Danes took advantage of to engage in some of their signature hiking and bivouacking activities, "Baltic Amber" reported – as well as the U.K. contingent being able to let its Challenger Main Battle Tanks loose on exercise.
The full "Baltic Amber" article is here (as a pdf file), while the latest edition also contains an article on the Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group One (SNMCMG1), which has since then arrived at Tallinn harbor ahead of this week's Operation Spirit counter-sea-mine activity, and which Estonia, Britain and Denmark all contribute to.
Editor: Andrew Whyte