If Estonia were to acquire any heavy tanks of its own, defense expenditure would need to reach 3 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per year, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Sunday, citing the National Center for Defense Investment (RKIK).
Estonia has in fact in the past considered acquiring heavy tanks, as recently as 2010, AK reported. Key factors include maintenance and training, as well as which type of armor to acquire.
Capt. Erik Reinhold of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) told AK he had been involved in the study of the management of armor back in the 1990s, in Germany, noting improvements have subsequently been made to the Leopard 2 tank – the Main Battle Tank used by German and several other European nations.
"Quite a number of things can now be done very quickly and in close proximity to the battlefield … For example, replacing an entire engine unit in a matter of minutes is viable," Reinhold said.
While tanks on their own are not enough, they significantly increase maneuverability Reinhold added, enumerating light and heavy infantry, anti-aircraft capabilities and engineers as making up this panoply.
Simulators are one step towards this capability, Reinhold went on.
"If we consider that a Leopard 2 uses 400-500 liters of fuel to travel 100km, then it can be seen that the odometer should not be wound up too much in order to train a driver;" adding that at the same time, actual training in a real vehicle is needed.
Following the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the ensuing 2016 Warsaw Summit, NATO allies brought heavy tanks to Estonia, mostly within the framework of the enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup based at Tapa.
This led in part to the earlier plans for EDF heavy tank acquisition to be shelved.
The militaries of the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany and Denmark have all deployed heavy tanks to Estonia since that time, with British Challenger 2s (pictured) and French Leclercs being among them.
The process of procurement, AK reported, entails a contract signed with the manufacturer, and potentially also contracts for more local firms, in order to provide maintenance.
More distant suppliers, such as South Korea, who make the K-9 Self-propelled gun which the EDF already has and is procuring more of, can consider setting up maintenance centers nearer to their customers – as South Korea is in fact planning at present, in Poland and possibly in the Scandinavian countries, Karmo Saar, RKIK combat vehicles category manager, told AK.
In order for Estonia to have a tank unit, defense spending must reach three percent of the gross domestic product, Saar estimated
Western aid to Ukraine has recently included around a dozen British Challenger 2s earmarked for that country in its defensive war with Russia; the status of potential Leopard 2 consignments to Ukraine from Germany is not yet clear.
Other NATO countries also plan on procuring heavy tanks – including Norway, planning a €1.8 billion bid, either for K-2 (South Korea) or Leopard 2s.
Poland, too, is set to purchase 180 K-2s from South Korea, Saar added, with the framework in place for as many as around 1,000.
Ultimately, such procurement volumes require a defense spend of 3 percent of GDP per annum, Saar said.
Estonia's political parties earlier this month, and with a Riigikogu election looming, stressed the need to raise defense spending to at least 3 percent of GDP, following EDF commander Martin Herem's comments that a Ukrainian victory against Russia is not sufficient on its own to fully neutralize the Russian threat to the Baltic States.
Estonia's military and related support to Ukraine is also set to raise to 1 percent of GDP.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Marko Tooming