Estonia owning American mobile multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) HIMARS would force Russia to considerably reassess and rework its attack plans and make it much costlier to attack Estonia and the other Baltic countries, Secretary General of the Ministry of Defense Kusti Salm said.
"Firstly, it will allow us to affect the enemy in their own territory. This means [their] supply routes, command centers and everything else would be within our range - 70-80 kilometers using conventional missiles and 300 kilometers using ATACMS," SALM told ERR's Madis Hindre in an interview.
He pointed to Russian military bases close to the Baltic borders and a considerable part of their supply routes relying on the railroad.
"In other words, we will force our enemy to hike the price of aggression. If they know we can destroy certain kinds of targets, they will have to start looking for alternative solutions. However, those are notably more expensive. Attacking Estonia, Baltic countries and NATO will become a lot more complicated and expensive for the enemy," Salm suggested.
The other aspect of adopting the M142 HIMARS is organizing the defense of the Baltics more broadly.
"For the first time - second time in truth as anti-ship missiles amount to the same thing - we have a situation where the Baltics have weapons that can affect the enemy on the other side of Baltic borders. In other words, the Baltics will become a single theater of war for Russia and also from our point of view," he said.
"And again - the amount of troops and weapons the adversary will need to count on is much greater and their options narrower. This hikes the price of aggression, lowers the likelihood of a military conflict against Estonia and directly serves the goal we pursue here - war can only be avoided if we are constantly prepared for it."
Estonia decided in favor of HIMARS for four reasons
Salm explained that before deciding to procure HIMARS systems, the defense ministry and the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) weighed buying other similar weapons systems, and even though some MLRS systems could have been procured more cheaply or quickly, the Lockheed Martin product was chosen for four reasons.
Firstly, interoperability with allies in terms of targeting and training. The fact Poland and U.S. troops stationed in Germany also use HIMARS systems paves the way for smoother allied cooperation.
The second reason is the possibility of restocking on munitions in crisis time. "An argument that requires no additional explanation looking at Ukraine. American systems are the only ones for which we can relatively confidently and quickly get more munitions. A fact no other ally can match today," Salm admitted.
Salm thirdly pointed to Baltic defense cooperation, the fact Latvia and Lithuania have decided to buy these systems and the Baltic defense ministers have agreed to develop them together. "Estonia has simply moved the fastest here as national defense spending has come along the most. But I am convinced that Latvia and Lithuania will catch up soon, with cooperation already underway," the secretary general said.
"And last but definitely not least, the U.S. is using its defense funds to finance the procurement that also renders it the cheapest system in the world for us."
Salm said that Estonia has been working on procuring MLRS systems for six months and reached a point where the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) has asked the Congress for permission for the sale.
"It is a normal process that applies in the case of all allies. The agency has the documentation it needs after talks with Estonia and is asking the Congress for permission. And we feel quite confident in that it will be granted rather quickly. Once we have it, we will move on to more detailed negotiations and the tender process," he said.
These details include things like training, maintenance and procuring munitions.
The maximum volume of the tender is $500 million, and even though Estonia is not planning on spending as much on HIMARS now, it leaves the door open to procuring additional equipment without having to go through the process again.
"What we know today is that we are planning to buy six launch platforms that form a single battery. We also know that we want to buy ordinary munitions (range of 70-80 kilometers) but have also asked for ATACMS missiles for which a Congressional permit is needed. Lockheed Martin is working on another new missile called PrSM that can hit targets 500 kilometers away. That once it's completed - which will take a few more years - our systems would be able to fire it and we could procure it," Salm explained.
The secretary general also said the shorter-range missiles cost over €100,000 a piece, while those than can hit targets 300 kilometers away cost €1.5 million.
Estonia plans to adopt HIMARS MLRS systems by late 2024.
The M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) is a light multiple rocket launcher developed in the late 1990s for the United States Army and mounted on a standard U.S. Army M1140 truck frame.
Editor: Marcus Turovski