It would be prudent for Estonia to make decisions regarding the mechanization of the division's artillery systems and 120 mm mortar batteries quickly, as it would take between four to five years before any results are visible, writes deputy chair of the Riigikogu National Defense Committee Leo Kunnas (EKRE).
If current plans to develop military defense are realized, Estonia will have 36 mobile artillery pieces and six HIMARS multiple rocket launchers by 2026. In addition, each infantry battalion will have nine 120 mm towed mortars. We are also in the process of procuring large quantities of different types of ammunition.
Multiple rocket launchers will give us entirely new deep fire capabilities, with the ability to fire at either 70 or 300 kilometers, depending on the range of the different types of missile. These developments are positive, but they will not be realized before 2026.
Unfortunately, multiple rocket launchers are not a direct substitute for the indirect fire capabilities that we need to support units fighting on the front line. We have given 67 artillery weapon systems to our de facto ally Ukraine, further reducing our limited indirect fire capability. The government has not shown us a replacement plan for the weapons given to Ukraine.
We currently have 24 self-propelled howitzers, known as Kõu (K-9 Thunder). This is too few for us to be able to fight a successful war given the conditions of modern warfare. By comparison, the Finnish Defense Forces have a total of 1,690 artillery weapon systems (including 120 mm mortars).
The paucity of weapon systems is a remnant of the so-called "affordable defense" from the previous decade, when the wartime defense structure included only two artillery battalions. This was clearly inadequate even then, and is even more inadequate now in the context of the last two years of fighting in the war in Ukraine. We can see that artillery plays a very important role in modern warfare.
One point of concern is the division's artillery. It would be reasonable to acquire wheeled artillery systems, which should be needed for two battalions, or 36 weapon systems in total. In that case, a regiment would be formed with one long-range artillery battalion using HIMARS and anti-ship air-to-air missiles and two other battalions with wheeled mobile artillery with a range of up to 40 kilometers.
During the course of preparations for the state budget strategy for the next four years (2025-2028) decisions should be taken in spring this year, and capability upgrades ought to be initiated without delay. In this case, we would have this capability between 2027 and 2028 at the earliest.
Infantry brigades' and battalions' 120 mm mortars should be replaced with truck-mounted alternatives. In other words, those units should be mechanized.
If we could get all this done, then we would have around 200 weapons systems on the map. We would achieve a reasonable proportion, comparable to that of the Finns, in order to have a sufficient independent military defense capability in terms of indirect fire.
It also has to be taken into account that if a war goes on for any length of time, around half of the artillery weapon systems will be knocked out within 30 – 40 days, no matter how well we fight. We are seeing this in Ukraine.
The stockpiling of ammunition must continue. The anti-tank mines that we have given to Ukraine also need to be replaced immediately. If we were able to produce our own military explosives, we could produce artillery shells and mortars, as well as anti-tank and anti-personnel mines. The quantities are so large that producing explosives would pay for itself, but it would also stimulate the economy. The defense industry's role in the economy should not be underestimated, especially now that the economy is not in great shape and needs a positive boost.
It would be prudent to make decisions regarding the mechanization of the division's artillery and 120 mm mortar batteries quickly, because we would only achieve the results in four or five years' time. These decisions should definitely not be postponed to the end of the decade. The security situation is too dangerous for that.
Editor: Michael Cole