NATO division in Estonia would require expanded HQ, units

NATO battle group's military parade at Tapa Army Base. April 20, 2017.
NATO battle group's military parade at Tapa Army Base. April 20, 2017.

Establishing a NATO division in Estonia would require significant preparation in terms of command, additional units and infrastructure. The prime minister made an announcement last week that Estonia required a permanent, divisional-sized structure as the country's security posture pivots from one of deterrence, to one of defense.

Appearing on ETV politics show "Esimene stuudio" Sunday, Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) commander Lt Gen. Martin Herem said that: "We are not really talking about a division – the five to ten thousand combatants, who would be here in Estonia – in and of itself, but how this division would get here."

"It would comprise a headquarters, at least two Estonian brigades plus some other Estonian units," Herem went on, adding that similar steps would also need to be made in respect of the NATO personnel from outside Estonia.

The components from outside Estonia would be ready to deploy to Estonia rapidly and at short notice, and would already be plugged-in to how the division worked and what conditions are like in Estonia, he added.

"At the same time, it should still have designated units, perhaps also partly here in Estonia, which, in case of threat, or, more accurately, a decision, would come here to Estonia within days, but which are also accustomed to deploying here here, to deploying in concert here; which are used to come here per se These would perhaps already have some resources stored here in advance," Lt. Gen. Herem said.

Defense ministry spokesperson Susan Lillevaäli told ERR that the alliance needs to be prepared for Russia to test that very preparedness.

"For this reason, we need to move from a deterrent, to a defensive readiness. In order to defend Estonia, we need a NATO-ready command structure. This command structure would lead the units of Estonia itself, the allies already here (Great Britain, France, Denmark) and the reinforcing forces coming to Estonia in the event of war," Lilleväli went on.

"The most important thing for us is the clear command structure in the operating room, it was clear about the transfer of critical capabilities to Estonia, i.e. what and when to be transferred here, the weapons and equipment pre-deployed to the reinforcing forces coming to Estonia," she added.

The current NATO command structure in Estonia covers two brigades, which would mean an increase in size was required to reach division-level capability.

Defense ministry: Evolving from deterrence posture to defense posture

The defense ministry told ERR News Monday that the forward presence concept needed to be evolved into one of forward defense.

"We're talking about combat ready NATO division command structure, which would lead Estonia's own units, those allies already here and the reinforcing forces that would come to Estonia in the event of war," ministry spokesperson Kai Simson said.

The expansion had already been budgeted for, Simson added.

She said: "The Estonian government has just decided to further strengthen Estonia's national defense, by allocating €476 million for this. This package sets out six key areas where we plan to strengthen our defense. One of the decisions is to allocate also more funds to the infrastructure to receive allies. These additional investments, by us, are also an indication that we are ready to invest promptly in the presence of the allies."

The current active EDF strength is around 29,000 personnel approximately – comprised of around 4,000 on active service and 25,000 as a rapid response reserve.

The current NATO enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup based at Tapa numbers around 2,000 Britons, Danes and French troops – this is a distinct endeavor from the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission based at Ämari.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said last week that Estonia's defensive capability is currently insufficient, given the large-scale Russian attempted invasion of Ukraine which began on February 24 and the changed security situation arising from that.

This situation could be improved by the stationing of a division-sized NATO unit in Estonia, made up both of Estonian personnel and those of its allies, as noted.

A division is roughly the fourth-tier level of military unit by size, after army group, army and corps, and typical employs 10,000-20,000 personnel, at full-strength, and is usually focused on one combat arm, for instance infantry, plus support elements

Some militaries' divisions retain their identities over decades, for instance the famed 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army.

A division is followed in size by a brigade, comprising a few thousand people; the EDF has two infantry brigades in addition to all its other aspects (the Estonian Navy (Merevägi) and air force (Õhuvägi) are organizationally a part of the EDF also).

The core of the NATO eFP battlegroup has generally been a battalion-sized (a few hundred people) unit on rotational basis, with the current rotation overlapping meaning the U.K. contingent is around twice the size it had been up until recently.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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