The annual Exercise Spring Storm (Kevadtorm) is nearing the end of its second week (of three) and has seen thousands of Estonian Defense Forces (EDF), volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit) and NATO allied personnel take part in the maneuvers, at the EDF's central polygon training area and at other locations, including in Järva County and on Hiiumaa.
Spring Storm is primarily concerned with testing passing-out conscripts' skills at the end of their eight- or 11-month national service stints, and has necessarily required alterations this year due to COVID-19 considerations, which have necessitated fewer reservists taking place than would normally happen.
Conversely, large numbers of NATO personnel have been involved, including significant input from air forces.
Over 30 allied and Estonian planes which have been in Estonia for Spring Storm include fifth generation Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militare) Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning IIs, making their first ever appearance in an exercise in Estonian skies.
Estonian Air Force (Õhuvägi) commander Brig. Gen. Rauno Sirk said: "The keywords of this year's Spring Storm are the good cooperation of air force and ground forces units and the use of new and powerful air assets."
One U.S. Air Force commander, Maj. Nikolas Folgert, meanwhile put the estimation of the cooperation a notch higher, calling it "excellent."
Maj. Folgert said: "Joint exercises with the [EDF] 2nd Infantry Brigade have provided us with many lessons."
"In addition, we have also worked with the 1st Infantry Brigade and Aviation Task Force 1 from the UK. The exercise has also allowed us to join forces with the Italian F-35 squadron that is on an air policing mission in Estonia," he went on.
Other international aircraft present included F-35s from the Spanish Air Force, U.S. Army and British Army Air Corps AW159 Wildcats, and U.S , AH-64 Apache and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.
Coordination between land, air and sea
Meanwhile on the ground, EDF units and NATO allies rehearsed coordination in combat, including with air forces, where the scenario involved an enemy of brigade-size, BNS reported.
Commander of the EDF's 1st Infantry Brigade, Col. Vahur Karus, said that things had gone well.
He said: "In the exercise, the way certain tactical situations are played out to the end could certainly be improved, but then again, this bilateral exercise is such a complex system to get right, and actually I think both sides have done a very good job on their tasks."
Chief of staff of the EDF's 2nd Infantry Brigade, Lt. Col. Lauri Abel, concurred, saying that the learning curve had been kept up with on all fronts.
Spring Storm has one more week to run, with live-firing exercises due next week.
Other highlights have included EDF conscripts getting a trip in a Black Hawk, and naval coordination with land-based coastal defense personnel from Poland's army, which took part on Hiiumaa.
Leo Docherty MP, the U.K. government's Minister for Veterans, also visited British Army members of 1st Battalion, the Mercian Regiment, taking part in Spring Storm.
The unit is at the core of the U.K.-led NATO Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup, based at Tapa, Lääne-Viru County.
Around 7,000 personnel have been taking part in Spring Storm this year, twice last year's figure, when the exercise came early on in the coronavirus pandemic. The number of reservists has been deliberately kept lower than in previous years, due to coronavirus considerations.
The exercise started May 17 and ends June 5.
Editor: Andrew Whyte