Estonian Navy to be substantially expanded in coming years

The Estonian Navy's flagship the Admiral Cown at harbor in Tallinn during the recent Estonian Navy Day.
The Estonian Navy's flagship the Admiral Cown at harbor in Tallinn during the recent Estonian Navy Day. Source: Karel Lumik, Taavi Laasik

Estonia's Navy (Merevägi) is set to face substantial expansion in the coming years, ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) reported Saturday, a growth which will include responsibility for shore-based anti-shipping missile systems.

The announcement coincided with a recent "Navy Day" held in Tallinn and open to the public, marking the 29th anniversary of the reestablishment of independent Estonia's naval forces.

Captain Major Märt Uuemaa, commander of the Navy's flagship, The ENL Admiral Cowan, told AK that: "New capabilities are being added to the Navy in the coming years relating to coastal defense capabilities in the form of defensive missiles, anti-ship missiles, and sea-mines.

The shore-based mid-range missiles will have a range of over 300km, Capt. Uuemaa said.

The Navy currently consists of three minehunters, originally British-built Sandown Class vessels, including the Admiral Cowan, and one minelayer, along with two Estonian-built force protection vessels.

"The Admiral Cowan is one of the navy's minesweepers, whose main task is to search for explosives on the seabed using a sonar system. She searches for and defuses various explosives," Capt. Uuemaa went on.

However, the Police and Border Guard Board's (PPA) patrol vessels will soon be merged into the navy, boosting the authority's coastal surveillance role, and the coastal defense batteries noted above will be operated by the Navy as well.

"Naturally, this also means an increase in personnel, both in terms of regulars and conscripts," Capt. Uuemaa went on.

"The vast majority of naval ratings have joined the fleet of their own accord," he added.

The Navy, like the Army but unlike the Airforce in Estonia, takes conscripts who are subsequently liable for reservist service, as well as career personnel; conscripts have leeway in choosing which part of Estonia's armed forces they wish to serve in.

One such conscript, Seaman Martin Roosileht, told AK that: "In my case, it was absolutely voluntary, as I had graduated from the Estonian Nautical School  (Eesti Merekool) so I thought that the navy would be the most appropriate place in which to serve"

The Navy is organizationally a part of the Estonian Armed Forces (EDF) and not a separate service; the same can be said of the Air Force (Õhuvägi).

The volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit) also has a Maritime Division, based at the Mine Harbor, in Tallinn.

July 1 1993 is considered the founding date of the restored-independence Navy as it is the date when a naval department was formed within the EDF's General Staff .

The Admiral Cowan, , was a popular draw at last weekend's Navy Day, and members of the public were willing to wait in line for lengthy periods to get a look around on board, despite the hot weather.

In January 1919 the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron was sent to the Baltic Sea.[1] Cowan's mission was to keep the sea lanes open to the new republics of Finland, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania

Estonian current defense doctrine had already provided for the acquisition of state-of-the-art sea-mines and shore batteries, even before the latest Russian invasion of Ukraine, starting February 24.

The Estonian Navy regularly contributes to the  Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1 (SNMCMG1) in the Baltic and North Atlantic, with the ENL Sakala recently having returned home from one such exercise.

Built by Baltic Workboats (BWB) on Saaremaa, the two force protection vessels the navy operates, the Risto and the Roland, were laid down in 2020.

Tallinn also frequently hosts visiting allied warships, most recently, the USS Kearsarge.

Admiral Walter Cowan (1871-1956) was a British Royal Naval officer who served in both World Wars. As a Rear Admiral, Cowan commanded a light cruiser squadron in the Baltic during the Estonian War of Independence of 1918-1920. The action helped keep sea lanes open to Estonia, as well as to Finland, Latvia and Lithuania, also embroiled in their own independence wars with the fledgling Soviet Russian state, and as such was a vital contribution to a successful outcome for Estonia.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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