The first decision would have to concern a unit the size of a medium-range air defense battalion. A battalion is made up of 12 systems that can be placed all over Estonia as four separate units with three weapons systems each. This would add a considerable element of deterrence, Meelis Oidsalu writes.
The ambition of additional national defense investments, as raised on Monday and likely to be decided later this week, is timely both in security policy and military-technical terms, especially the part about medium-range air defense.
There are nine solid reasons why Estonia must not postpone the decision to develop medium-range air defense capacity.
Estonia will be asking NATO for considerably greater allied troop presence in the country this week. We need to demonstrate that we take our defense seriously if we want to appear credible in the eyes of our allies. Medium-range air defense matters from the point of view of allied reinforcements.
Should the situation become heated in Estonia or one or both of the other Baltic states, allied reinforcements will have to make their way here. This requires supply routes to be established that the enemy (as we can see in Ukraine) is prepared to attack.
Making the decision before the Thursday summit would provide Estonia with a distinct advantage over Latvia or other states demanding additional forces while not having done enough to demonstrate their dedication in terms of securing their arrival.
U.S. support has seen the development of an air defense guidance and monitoring system, complete with the necessary comms. The U.S. European Command has allocated Estonia over $100 million in this capacity, with guidance and comms already in place. Estonia needs to take care of the back end of the project – procure the launchers, fire control centers and munitions.
I negotiated the package at the Ministry of Defense, and the Americans were clear about it being an "encouragement" (they were being polite) for the Baltics to handle the remaining operation in procuring the launchers, fire control centers and missiles. Our allies have been nudging us in this direction for years.
It is not something the allies can do for us. NATO's medium-range air defense capability is less than fully fledged in general, with relatively few systems available, and NATO countries that surrender some of their Soviet systems to Ukraine (Slovakia and likely a few others) will also need theirs replaced by other allies post haste.
The way Russia wages war has become even crueler, with systematic destruction of civilian objects and hitting civilian targets with missiles strikes no longer taboo. Therefore, we are no longer dealing with a purely military matter but one of civil protection.
Estonia has short-range air defense, while it is ineffective beyond a few miles and only affects low-flying objects. Medium-range air defense systems can hit targets at an altitude of ten kilometers, with a single battery creating an "air defense bubble" 40 kilometers wide. (A battalion has four and they can be stationed all over the country.)
If we fail to decide now, it will postpone the entire project by six months. Considering the fact that Germany and other states planning to ramp up defense spending have yet to gear up for tenders, the decision should be made now as longer production deadlines and higher prices are virtually guaranteed down the line.
All of it can be done in three years but only if we decide now. While these sums can be added to the state budget strategy come fall, the ministry will have no grounds for a tender without the government decision, and we will lose two or three years instead of the aforementioned six months and end up paying a premium.
A modest investment can yield a lot of deterrence. The first decision would have to concern a unit the size of a medium-range air defense battalion. A battalion is made up of 12 systems that can be placed all over Estonia as four separate units with three weapons systems each.
Stationing these batteries to cover all of Estonia would add considerably to deterrence because the enemy would not know their locations and would not dare breach the Estonian airspace. We are seeing the same in Ukraine where the country's patchwork air defense has robbed Russia of the necessary air superiority courtesy of its mobility and level of operational secrecy.
We have the information necessary for the tender. The Estonian Center for Defense Investments (RKIK) has long since done the necessary calculations and knows the makeup and cost of the air defense battalion in question. The cost is €300 million (that includes a small number of missiles, a so-called started pack), while more missiles would be needed (the cost is around €700,000 apiece), putting the total price tag at €350 million, while the battalion itself could be formed for €300 million.
Europe is at war.
Editor: Marcus Turovski