The Estonian Centre for Defence Investments (ECDI) is set to launch negotiations with the arms manufacturers shortlisted in a procurement for a contract to supply automatic firearms to the Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) and other armed structures. The first new firearms are expected to be delivered in time for the Independence Day military parade in 2019.
Earlier this week, the EDF, the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) and the Ministry of Justice tested the weapons of the three suppliers whose offers were deemed to be consistent with the terms of the procurement. Properties evaluated included precision, stability and dependability, as well as feedback from shooters.
Offers from Heckler & Koch GmbH (Germany), Sig Sauer Inc. (U.S.) and Lewis Machine & Tool Company (U.S.) qualified in the procurement conducted by the ECDI. The manufacturers made four weapons available for testing — two automatic rifles, a light machine gun, and a precision rifle.
"The goal of the testing was to find out how stable and dependable the weapons are in the hands of various shooters," said Maj. Risto Pärtel, chief weapons officer of the EDF. According to Pärtel, the individuals selected to perform the test shooting were chosen to represent as broad as possible a selection of potential users, and included soldiers with experience on international missions, members of the volunteer Estonian Defence League, members of the PPA, right- as well as left-handed individuals, and men and women alike. Testing was conducted in full combat gear, including a helmet and bulletproof vest.
In the appraisal of the offers the outcome of the shooting test makes up 10 percent of the overall score, the length of the useful life of the weapon 20 percent, technical specifications 30 percent, and the price 40 percent. Pärtel said that the aim of the procurement was to get the most reliable and state-of-the-art weapon for members for the defense forces.
Priit Soosaar, head of the department for procurements at the ECDI, said on Thursday that the contract is expected to cost €75 million at most, and that the first units to receive the new weapons will be the 1st and 2nd Infantry Brigades, the PPA and units of the Ministry of Justice, as well as some units of the Estonian Defence League.
Negotiations on the details of the deal will start in April or May, after which the suppliers will make their final offers setting out the precise number of units to be supplied, the price, and information about extras. The contract is expected to be signed in the fall.
According to Soosaar, the first weapons are expected to be delivered in time for the 2019 Independence Day military parade.
Pärtel added that all of the new firearms will be equipped with rails necessary for the mounting of additional equipment such as red dot sights. The weapons currently being used by the defense forces had to be refurbished for the rails to be attached. According to Pärtel, the introduction of the new weapons also means that in the future also conscripts will get weapons equipped with red dot scopes.
Pärtel added that the new weapons will be taken into use for the next 20-25 years.
Warrant Officer Mihkel Paalo, from the sniper school of the Viru Infantry Battalion of the 1st Infantry Brigade, said that all the weapons tested are better and more lightweight than the weapons currently being used by the EDF.
The weapons to be acquired are to replace the EDF's Galil and AK-4 rifles. HK G3A automatic rifles will not be replaced.
Soosaar said that no decision has been made yet about what will happen to the automatic rifles currently in use by the EDF.
With its procurement, the ECDI is seeking to purchase new 5.56-millimeter and 7.62-millimeter automatic firearms for the 1st and 2nd Infantry Brigade of the EDF. In addition to the EDF, the Ministry of Justice and the PPA have also been included in the procurement, as they are likewise in need of new firearms. The technical specifications for the procurement were drawn up by the EDF.
According to the procurement plan, the ECDI is to purchase approximately 11,000 automatic firearms during the 2018-2021 period. In addition, the contract must enable the option to purchase up to another 18,000 additional firearms until 2024.
Of the 14 applications by arms manufacturers to pre-qualify for the procurement, which was first announced last summer, nine were accepted, three of which have since been shortlisted as meeting the minimum requirements of the procurement.
The projected maximum cost of the firearms procurement is €75 million, making it one of Estonia's largest and most important armament contracts in the next decade alongside the K9 self-propelled artillery and ammunition procurement.
Editor: Aili Vahtla