Almost a third of conscripts from 2013 and 2014 have not continued reservist activities or attended subsequent training sessions, a new National Audit Office report shows.
Estonia's National Defense Development Plan is based on the number of conscripts recruited.
But almost a third of those who underwent conscription in 2013 and 2014 have never attended reservist training since or been invited to by the Defense Forces, the report found.
"If we looked at the two years, about half of those who did not participate in reservist training did not appear despite the invitation and about half were never called up by the Defense Forces itself," Auditor General Janar Holm said.
"At the same time, it could be assumed that individuals from these years have come to the end of their rapid response reserve period when their skills, knowledge and efficiency are at the highest."
Holm said the readiness of reservists declines significantly in seven years if skills are not updated.
The report recommends regularly inviting reservists who are members of the wartime units of Defense Forces to reservist training.
Additionally, the motivational package for participating in reservist training should be reviewed – is the financial compensation sufficient or should reservists be offered additional leave and other benefits.
The report contains national defense state secrets and is not subject to publication. ERR News republished the summary released by the National Audit Office.
National Defense Development Plan 2022–2031
The National Defense Development Plan 2022–2031 prescribes a gradual increase in the number of conscripts to be called for service so that 400 more conscripts than today would serve by 2025
This means increasing the number of conscripts to 4,000, facilitating the staffing of the prescribed wartime units.
Unfortunately, the increase in the number of conscripts entails additional costs, a part of which has not been taken into account in the development plan, the report found.
While an increase in the number of conscripts has been taken into account in the construction of barracks, specific plans are not in place regarding things such as training grounds and shooting ranges as to where, when and how much should be invested in order to provide the same level of training to more conscripts.
The amount of additional cost for training equipment was also unspecified by autumn 2021.
According to the Defense Forces, calling 4,000 conscripts to service per year means recruiting about 50 more instructors who are inactive duty. Although the National Defence Development Plan foresees an increase of 300 in the number of people in active duty by 2031, this does not automatically mean that the number of instructors directly in charge of conscripts on a daily basis would increase.
Bottlenecks: Training and recruitment
A potential bottleneck is the training and recruitment of instructors because positions are vacant even now, which puts a greater workload on instructors.
As a temporary solution, the Defense Forces has so far engaged conscripts who started their service in January and have completed the course of junior non-commissioned officers to help conduct soldier's specialty basic course for conscripts starting service in June-July of the same year. These are conscripts who should not yet be given full responsibility for achieving all the training objectives of new conscripts.
The training necessary for becoming an officer and leading a 30-man platoon takes three years at the Estonian Military Academy, and training of platoon sergeants and instructors takes one year at the course of senior non-commissioned officers.
Unfortunately, the number of potential students and the admission capacity of educational institutions is limited.
The National Audit Office recommends clarifying the costs related to increasing the number of conscripts as comprehensively as possible and to ensure the recruitment and training of a number of people in active duty that corresponds to the number of conscripts.
Conscription dropouts have fallen
Dropping out of compulsory military training has decreased year by year, facilitating the filling of positions in units.
Both the lowering of health requirements and a more personal approach to training have reduced dropping out of compulsory military service before the completion of training.
A more personal approach allows taking the differences in people's abilities and needs better into account but increases the workload involved in the administration of conscripts and leaves less time for training.
Positions of reservists are filled in the majority of the units of the Defense Forces, with the most room for improvement in units prepared by the Defense League.
The Defense League is expected to continue significantly increasing the personnel of territorial defense units in the future. This requires a more active involvement of current members as well as recruitment of new members.
In a situation where there are no problems with staffing the units following compulsory military service, the National Audit Office recommends using reservists trained in the Defense Forces to staff the vacant positions in the units prepared by the Defense League. One possibility is to use reservists who have just left the rapid response reserve to staff the vacancies of the Defense League.
The training of a large proportion of units has received a very good assessment in combat readiness inspections of the Defense Forces based on the registry data and documents. However, an assessment exercise that would confirm this combat readiness has not been carried out for many units as at the end of 2021.
Editor: Helen Wright