Estonia and Latvia to build medium-range air defense on Iris-T systems

Missile launcher of the Iris-T air defense system.
Missile launcher of the Iris-T air defense system. Source: SCANPIX / IMAGO

Estonia and Latvia have decided to procure German Iris-T medium-range air defense systems.

Estonia and Latvia that are jointly procuring medium-range air defense capacity have decided to launch talks with German defense contractor Diehl Defence to procure Iris-T SLM weapons systems, the Ministry of Defense's press service communicated.

"I am very glad we have reached a new milestone in our medium-range air defense joint tender process with Latvia. It is a mutual project of historical significance in the two countries' defense cooperation as we have not had joint tenders on this scale before," Estonia's Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur said at a meeting in Riga.

"We hope to get as far as a contract and declare the official winner of the procurement this summer," Pevkur added.

"The jointly picked medium-range air defense system will help boost the security of Estonian and Latvian airspace and ensure the best possible protection for our people, civilian and military infrastructure," Latvia's Defense Minister Inara Murniece said via a press release.

Estonia and Latvia signed a mutual intentions memorandum for procuring medium-range air defense at the NATO Madrid summit in June of 2022. The process is being curated by the Center for Defense Investments (RKIK) that signed an agreement for the joint tender with the Latvian defense ministry last July.

"We have laid down the goal of having functional medium-range air defense capability by 2025, which requires the first weapons systems to arrive in Estonia in 2024," Pevkur said.

Joint tender ensures better price and protection

Pevkur told ERR radio news that procuring the systems jointly with Latvia helps secure a better price but also air defense coverage as the systems are interoperable.

"What matters is getting the best system at the best price. In other words, as much air defense as possible for as little taxpayer money as possible," the Estonian defense minister said.

Price in the hundreds of millions

Pevkur said that the exact cost of the procurement remains unclear but recalled that the government earmarked €400 million for the purpose at last year's state budget talks.

"I can assure you that we are within that ballpark, while I cannot give you an exact figure yet because the contract still needs to be negotiated, which will also make it clear what else Estonia needs to procure to facilitate the weapons," the minister told ERR.

Iris-T offers a measure of defense against ballistic missiles

The Ministry of Defense's press release suggests medium-range air defense systems are effective against planes, helicopters and other threats, such as UAVs, ballistic missiles and loitering munitions.

Pevkur explained that air defense is made up of several layers, meaning different weapons systems. He added that the Iris-T system provides some defense against ballistic missiles.

"Ultra short-range air defense can be done with machine guns. Talking about short-range air defense, Estonia is set to take delivery of Polish PIORUN systems. And now, for medium-range air defense, we plan to procure the Iris-T. What is important about that system is that it gives us a measure of ballistic missile defense. We were hoping for that with this procurement but weren't sure, however, it now seems we will be getting pretty much all we wanted."

Different criteria considered

RKIK got in touch with six international defense contractors for its market research for the tender. Every bid was analyzed thoroughly.

"To determine the winner, we looked at different evaluation criteria: the systems' technical capabilities, total cost, lifecycle cost over the next 30 years, delivery times and the involvement of local industry for Estonian and Latvian companies to be able to contribute," said Priit Soosaar, in charge of communications and radars at RKIK.

The volume of the investment and exact delivery times will become clear after contractual talks are concluded. The price includes the weapons systems, necessary infrastructure, training, equipment and other expenses.


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Editor: Mait Ots, Marcus Turovski

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