Estonia invites allied nations to rehearse air defense in Baltic airspace

Flags of the three Baltic States, from left, Estonia, Latvia and LIthuania.
Flags of the three Baltic States, from left, Estonia, Latvia and LIthuania. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Estonia has joined Latvia and Lithuania in inviting other allied nations to use Baltic airspace for air defense exercises, including those involving ground-to-air missiles.

This would happen on a rotational basis along the lines of that which has been in place in Estonia for several years already, and follows a joint declaration made earlier this week.

Speaking to ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Wednesday, Pevkur said "Under NATO's tutelage we are trying to extend the same rotational model to include other member states, so that we can have fighters, air defense batteries plus our own short-range air defense all in the one operation."

This would fulfill the need to rehearse air defense scenarios comprising air and ground-based air defense systems; latter deployments to Estonia have already happened in the form of Norwegian Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) in Spanish service, which arrived in-country in April.

Other allied nations are likely to contribute along similar lines in due course, AK reported.

Another advantage of Estonia and the other two Baltic States, whose combined air defense has hitherto come under the same NATO Baltic Air Policing Mission umbrella, is the relatively sparsely populated skies in the region.

Air Force (Õhuvägi) Deputy Chief of Staff Lt Col. Fredi Karu said: "For this reason, is it perhaps better to fly here;- in Western Europe there has certainly been a significant increase in air traffic. We have less air traffic, all the more so since nowadays the air traffic relating to our eastern neighbor is even less than it had been earlier."

"Here in eastern, and also in northwestern Estonia, we can offer our allies some very good training opportunities," he went on.

"Now with Finland is being a new member of NATO and Sweden highly likely to follow in the near future, this cooperation will certainly intensify further, so we will be very likely to see more of these nations' aircraft [in Estonian and Baltic airspace] in the future," Karu went on.

The air training zones offered to allied nations run through the three Baltic states and along the Russian and Belarusian borders. 

The three Baltic states' defense ministers signed an agreement Monday while at the Vilnius NATO summit, which they agreed to promote Baltic air space for NATO air activities.

Major air defense exercises have also included the Baltic Western European and Nordic countries in the past. In 2016, the Estonian government established a special zone for this purpose, for the first time. At the time, it was 92km wide and 185 km long and from 1.5km to 15km in height.

Ground such as those based at Tapa, and maritime forces, will also continue to be integrated, such as those involving U.S. A-10 Warthogs attack aircraft, last month.

The broader changes mean military aircraft will be observed more frequently in Estonian airspace than they have already been, with those of Finland and most likely Sweden to be added.

Even ahead of their NATO accession, the latter two countries had for many years been involved as partner nations in regional military exercises, while Sweden held a major exercise five years ago which saw Saab Gripens in the role of an enemy taking off from Ämari base to simulate an attack. The air forces of the U.S. and the U.K. were also involved in that rehearsal.

Ämari base itself is to undergo an upgrade next year, with Lielvarde base, in Latvia, to substitute during that time. Šiauliai base (Lithuania) will continue to be utilized.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Barbara Oja

Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera', reporter Vahur Lauri.

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