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Estonia's defense capabilities dramatically improved on year

K9 Thunder self-propelled howitzer being tested in Estonia.
K9 Thunder self-propelled howitzer being tested in Estonia. Source: Janvar Pitelkov/EDF

After Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last February, NATO took a fresh look at its eastern flank, and by now the alliance's new defense posture has been furnished with concrete plans and commitments. Estonia is spending unprecedented amounts on defense, however there is still work to be done over the next couple of years for the arrival of new weapons in the country and rehearsing these new plans.

Estonia's defense capabilities have grown exponentially within the span of a year. The country is buying not only large quantities of ammunition and equipment, but also powerful new weapons, the likes of which Estonia has never had before.

In order to use all these weapons and to command allied units in Estonia, the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) established a division – a unit essentially tasked with Estonia's military defense in its entirety.

"For example, if air force planes want to provide supporting fire to ground forces, then it's the division who on one hand will indicate where exactly it's needed, and on other hand also destroy the enemy's air defenses with its artillery fire in order to get the planes to the right place at all," explained Maj. Gen. Veiko-Vello Palm, commander of the Estonian Division of the EDF.

In other words, the division is the one ensuring that both Estonian and allied troops are fighting in unison, that there are no weak spots in Estonia's defenses, and that the enemy is left with nothing but bad choices.

In terms of deliveries, the ending year marks the third record year as such, said Magnus-Valdemar Saar, director general of the Estonian Center for Defense Investments (ECDI).

"This year we're delivering a combined €500 million in materials, the lion's share of which is ammunition," Saar said. "We've purchased additional automatic [weapons], shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles [man-portable air-defense systems, or MANPADS], an additional six K9 self-propelled howitzers and a lot of all kinds of other equipment."

The ECDI also signed several new procurement contracts this year, including with Germany for the purchase of medium-range air defense systems that for the first time will enable Estonia itself to eliminate air threats at altitudes of up to 20 kilometers. The medium-range air defense systems are slated to arrive in the country by the end of 2025.

"Delivery times are one of the most important criteria," Saar noted. "We of course value those who deliver faster."

Estonia isn't doing all of this alone. This July, NATO confirmed its new defense plans, i.e. how to actually fulfill the commitment that it will defend every inch of allied territory. While these are major strategic plans, all smaller units, including the Estonian Division, have to update and rehearse their own plans, said Tuuli Duneton, undersecretary for defense policy at the Ministry of Defense.

"The reinforcement brigade that the U.K. has promised Estonia to contribute to the Estonian Division will be participating in exercises in full in 2025," Duneton noted. "That's the year they will be rehearsing all of their tactical plans."

The same is underway in the remaining Baltic states, Poland, and along NATO's entire eastern flank. In the north, NATO security is ensured by the accession of Finland and soon likely of Sweden as well.

While Estonia's defense capabilities have never been stronger, nor in the time since Estonia regained its independence in 1991 has the threat been greater, Palm acknowledged.

"We now have a major country in Europe and Asia – Russia – that believes that problems can be solved with military force," said the division commander. "If they've done it once, they'll do it again."

Should Russia break Ukraine's stubborn resistance, the Russian Army will constitute an immediate threat to its neighboring countries, Palm warned.

Duneton nonetheless stressed that there is currently no direct military threat to Estonia, and it doesn't appear as though such a threat will materialize within the next couple of months either. Even so, however, over the years, preventing war will require efforts equal to those of last year.

"Right now and in the years ahead, we have to do everything we can, as much as possible, to prepare the country for a possible conflict," the undersecretary emphasized. "This is our home, this is our country, and we have to stand up for it."

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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