Estonia is poised to buy around 230 armored personnel carriers from Turkish contractors to lend armor protection to the 2nd Infantry Brigade by 2025. Other units will also be equipped with the smaller of the two types of vehicles to be procured.
Nearly €200 million will buy Estonia two types of vehicles, the Otokar Otomotiv 6x6 Arma APCs and Nurol Makina's NMS four-by-fours. An equal number of both vehicles will be bought.
The 6x6s will be given to the 2nd Infantry Brigade. While the Defense Ministry refused to describe the level of protection provided by the new vehicles, it is an obvious improvement over the tarps that currently protect the infantry's trucks from rain at best.
Soldiers carried by APCs should be shielded from heavy machine gun and mortal fire as well as shell fragments. The Estonian Defense Investments Center (RKIK) points out that the vehicles' mine protection is better than what the tender conditions called for.
Unlike the Pasi APCs used by the 1st Infantry Brigade, the Arma does not have a windshield or side windows. The driver has a hatch, with protection from weather effects provided by a removable plexiglass shield. In case of enemy contact, the driver will close the hatch and be able to see their surroundings using periscopes, which is also true for the gunner.
In addition to the driver and gunner, the Arma can carry eight soldiers. Lt. Col. Jaan Kesser, head of the Kuperjanov Infantry Battalion, said that the 2nd Infantry Brigade will continue to carry out light infantry tasks even after being outfitted with the new vehicles. The role of the Arma will be to transport troops and provide machine gun fire support.
The Estonian and Turkish ministers of defense were due to sign a cooperation deal on Wednesday afternoon.
1st Infantry Brigade to share in the use of NMS APCs
While most of the 6x6 Armas will go to the 2nd Infantry Brigade, the smaller NMS will be distributed between both brigades.
"The 4x4 is meant for smaller gun teams and to serve as a command vehicle for certain units," said Karmo Saar, head of the category of land, sea and aerial vehicles for RKIK.
Some EDF air defense and anti-tank units could be looking at new 4x4s. Scouts will continue to use smaller off-road vehicles to minimize their visibility.
Saar said that the 4x4 NMS is just as capable off road than the 6x6 Pasi APCs the 1st Infantry Brigade currently uses.
2025 Spring Storm exercises could see new APCs used
It is a coincidence that both types of vehicles will be bought from Turkey. The tender saw bids from Finnish, French, Spanish, Italian and German manufacturers.
Saar said that the competition was fierce and less than one point separated the winner from the second place. "Other manufacturers' offerings were more expensive by several million."
While price was the most important criterion, the RKIK also looked at availability of spare parts as well as delivery time.
The first vehicles need to reach Estonia inside a year from the signing of the contract. This means that at least four of the smaller and six larger vehicles will have to arrive before the end of next year. The EDF's mechanics will be the first to be trained on them.
More regular deliveries will kick off in early 2025 and the goal is to have the 2nd Infantry Brigade meet the Spring Storm major training exercise in the new vehicles," Kesser said.
Preparations are already underway as Kuperjanov conscripts are practicing on Pasi APCs on loan from the 1st Infantry Brigade to need as little retraining as possible when the new vehicles arrive.
"Once we train the drivers and gunners this year, a single day will be enough to retrain them once the new APCs arrive," he added.
Editor: Mirjam Mäekivi, Marcus Turovski