'Välisilm' takes stock of current situation with Estonia's defense forces
The Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) plan to almost double their wartime personnel capacity, to close to 44,000, ETV foreign affairs show "Välisilm" reported Monday, in addition to the various procurements going on as equipment is replaced and modernized.
Plenty of lessons have been drawn already from the current war in Ukraine.
Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, now in its second year, has led to greater unity among countries in the region, and their allies, as British Army Col. Dai Bevan noted.
Col. Bevan, commander of the NATO enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup based at Tapa, told "Välisilm" that: "This has brought defense of Estonia, defense of the region and defense of the wider alliance into far greater focus. You will have seen over the last year, significant changes within NATO's lay-down in Estonia."
Tarmo Ränisoo, CEO of the Estonian Defense and Aerospace Industry Association (Eesti Kaitsetööstuse Liit), noted the presence of Estonian defense firm Milrem on the ground in Ukraine. with its production group, and the equipment which Ukrainians are testing, training on and using.
Ränisoo added that: "[Estonian unmanned aircraft systems firm] Threod (pictured-ed.) is also on site with its drones, and there are a few more [companies represented]. Most recently, there was also the news from ERR itself regarding the delivery of [surveillance tech firm][ DefSecIntel's tracking system to Ukraine."
The Ukraine war's direct impact on Estonia and its allies includes the need for greater firepower over a longer range, and defense against armor and air attacks.
Last year saw three main additional defense procurement tranches.
Additional ammunition was purchased for €800 million, prior to the war's current phase beginning.
March saw anti-tank and short-range anti-aircraft Piorun systems jointly with Poland (Piorun is Polish-made-ed.), for €60 million.
As spring arrives, Ukraine awaits further aid from the West in order to mount offensives. The latest finding was, however, that the West does not have sufficient ammunition.
One might be forgiven for thinking that this is also reflected in the disagreements over the Estonian National Defense Development Plan, "Välisilm" opined.
Warfare is also becoming more technological, as the current conflict demonstrates. Ukraine, as the underdog, has had to show far more ingenuity, as demonstrated in its successful breakthrough from Kharkiv, with five brigades.
The Russians abandoned equipment from two mechanized brigades in its wake, including 100 tanks and 200 armored vehicles, publicly available data reports.
Tarmo Ränisoo added that: "At a crucial point in this struggle, the Ukrainians, using technological dominance, were able to spin their intelligence cycle three to four times faster than the Russian side could do. The time from discovery to destruction was thus shorter for them."
Logistics is the another area where lessons are being learnt., but has also led to some delays in western aid arriving.
Currently, the Estonian Ministry of Defense is preparing to provide assistance to Ukraine in repair, maintenance and spare parts, all based on private sector Estonian firms.
Magnus Saar, director of the National Center for Defense Investments (RKIK) also cited as an important lesson from this war the fact that in addition to the usual short-range anti-aircraft units, distributing more basic anti-aircraft weapons more widely among units is needed in order to cover the rear area against, for example, a landing craft or unexpected air threats.
It is hoped that the concentration of minds and a shared understanding with Poland, Finland and Sweden – the latter two NATO applicants – will lead to Estonia and the other two Baltic States organizing their defenses more regionally, with planning and the presence of the NATO eFPs aiding this (there are equivalent battlegroups in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland-ed.).
In addition to training needs, this in turn gives a boost to the domestic defense industry.
Other due procurements include 12 more South Korean-made K9 "Thunder" Self-propelled guns, to arrive in 2026 with armor piercing ammo procured from France, and the joint mid-range air defense joint procurement with Latvia, which the RKIK promises news on shortly.
Lithuania already has Norwegian-made National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System (NASAMS) for that purpose.
Drone warfare and its importance is another takeaway from the Ukraine conflict so far, with a representative of the Ukrainian manufacturer Aerorozvidka recently touring the Batlic States and Poland, showcasing this.
Around 6,000 drones of various sizes are in use in Ukraine at any given time, Tarmo Räinsoo said, while Sten Reimann, a board member of the same defense and aerospace industry association, put the number of Threod-made drones currently in Ukraine in the dozens.
At the same time, more needs to be done to counter Russia's own counter-drone warfare tactics, which sees drones blocked at short range, of about 200-300 meters, Reinmann said.
Compare that with Russia's own Orlan-10 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and its larger UAVs, which need to be blocked at ranges more in the kilometers, he added.
Thjs includes the cruise missiles and suicide drones provided by Iran, Reimann added.
The original "Välisilm" report (in Estonian) is here.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Vahur Lauri