'Välisilm': More NATO units, weaponry being brought to Estonia

HIMARS live firing exercise in Estonia in 2022.
HIMARS live firing exercise in Estonia in 2022. Source: EDF Headquarters

The war in Ukraine has led to prompt action on the part of NATO in providing personnel and materiel to Estonia, to aid in strengthening the alliance's eastern flank, ETV foreign affairs show "Välisilm" reported Monday.

The Estonian Defense Forces (EDF), too, have been building up along these lines, with the newly-formed divisional structure the interface between these two strands.

The volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit) has also seen a boost in numbers, with thousands joining up.

Last Thursday, a U.S. Infantry company arrived in-country from Poland, to take part in winter warfare exercises in the new year and as part of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) 2nd Infantry Brigade, based in Võru.

U.S. M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) systems (pictured) will also be based in Tapa, under the structure of the newly-formed EDF division, and its rotations are to be related to Estonia until the EDF receives its own HIMARS.

EDF commander Lt Gen. Martin Herem told "Välisilm" that: "Training in the field will start next year. While we are familiar with these [HIMARS] ... the American HIMARS unit will come to Estonia for a longer period in the near future."

"One of the tasks for this unit will also be to train our future HIMARS teams," he added.

This is all in addition to the U.K.-led NATO enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup based at Tapa, which became a reality in early 2017 and which contains regular rotations of personnel from the French and Danish armies.

While Britain and France operate heavy tanks – Challenger 2 and Leclerc respectively – the Danes, too, brought their own Leopard 2 heavy tanks to Estonia in September this year, for the first time. The EDF itself does not have heavy tanks.

The Ukraine war has since February proven to be a theater in which the heavy tank has been one of the mainstays – in the months since the Russian invasion began in late February, the amount of armor knocked out or otherwise out-of-action is around the same as many European nations' total stock of tanks, "Välisilm" reported.

Lt Gen. Herem added that: "While I really like tanks when they are fighting on the same side, I don't like them whatsoever when they are on the opposite side. This would equally be the case if we are talking about an Estonian forest, a bog, or the open fields of Ukraine."

Ministry of Defense Secretary General Kusti Salm told AK that, as for the EDF having tanks of its own: "This will be under discussion when putting in place a renewed development plan. If the political leadership considers it necessary to get real decisions behind the promise of the potential [increase to] 3 percent [of GDP defense spend], then this will certainly be one of the viable options."

Lt Gen. Herem said of tanks that: "Other capabilities must be secured first. The priority is indirect fire, and long-range capabilities both at sea and on the land, and the communications and intelligence along with that. Next comes air defense, and after that, comes armor. All of this must be topped of with plenty of ammunition for every weapons system."

The governments of both the U.S. and the U.K. have pledged a unit to be earmarked for Estonia's defense but which will not be permanently based in-country.

These units will send personnel to Estonia for training in the form of sub-units; as noted, this year saw the deployment of the British Agile Task Force to Estonia, for instance, in addition to the recently arrived U.S. infantry company.

Secretary General Salm said: "The British will appoint one of their brigades – this brigade will comprise 5,000 soldiers, tanks, artillery, combat vehicles – tasked with the defense of Estonia, within the division structure created in Estonia."

"A few weeks ago, the news came from the U.S. that they will be sending HIMARs multiple rocket launchers here in the coming weeks," he added.

Britain's Agile Task Force, which served under Estonia's 2nd Brigade structure, recently departed from Estonia by agreement between the governments of both countries. The very nature of such agile forces is they be deployed in Estonia where needed, and can equally be redeployed elsewhere.

Defense League also being enlarged

On the domestic front, the volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit) is to be augmented with 10,000 more EDF reservists, to provide around 20,000 personnel tasked with territorial defense, "Välisilm" reported.

EDF reservists are those who have completed their conscript training and remain on lists and are liable to attend annual exercises in the ensuing years.

The new set-up is something of a marrying up of these reservists with their volunteer Defense League counterparts, and the reservists can choose the Defense League district (Malev) most convenient for them to serve in.

This should also mean that the various regions of Estonia are defended by those who know the country best, another advantage which the course of the Ukraine war has highlighted.

Over 4,000 people have recently joined the Defense League; Eero Rebo, Chief of the Defense League's General Staff, told "Välisilm" that the league: "Is the shield that covers Estonia's territory and armored maneuverability. The role of the sword, so to speak, is largely covered by the [newly created] division, where it makes sense to collect armored equipment and more firepower."

This force will remain primarily in a light infantry role and will be given new firearms, anti-tank weaponry and bullet-proof vests.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: 'Välisilm'

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