Defense ministry signs LMT arms contract in the US

Priit Soosaar (seated, left) and LMT CEO Karl Lewis signing Tuesday's procurement deal in Davenport, Iowa, while Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Estonian ambassador to the US Jonatan Vseviov (standing, second from right), and other representatives, look on. Source: Ministry of Defence

A contract to supply the Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) with automatic rifles was signed this week, marked by a ceremony in the U.S., and bringing to an end a lengthy procurement process dogged by challenges from another supplier.

Lewis Machine Tool Company (LMT) concluded the contract with Estonia's Centre for Defence Investment on Tuesday, with a ceremony taking place in Davenport, Iowa, where LMT is based.

"For our regular troops, as well as for our reservists, the rifle is the most crucial weapon, and with the contract signed today the defense forces will be getting new generation rifles which are accurate, ergonomic, reliable and modern," Kusti Salm, departmental director at the Ministry of Defence said, according to a ministry press release.

The Centre for Defence Investment falls under the ministry's aegis.

The tender, for 5.56mm and 7.62mm automatic arms, was first announced in 2017, seeing four bidders emerge from the original lineup of 14 applicants. While the contract was awarded to LMT, it was soon met with a challenge from U.S. arms manufacturer Sig Sauer Inc., revolving partly around claimed quality issues with the LMT weapons.

The contract was initially taken away from LMT in January, following the first Sig Sauer Inc. appeal in December 2018, only to be reinstated the following month. A second Sig Sauer Inc. appeal was rejected by the Tallinn Administrative Court  in March. Although Sig Sauer Inc. could have contested this decision as well, it had not, when the deadline for making such a move passed in mid-May.

The LMT contract was reported to be valued at €22.7 million, compared with €27.6 million from Sig Sauer Inc. German company Heckler & Koch had quoted a reported €45.5 million.

Kusti Salm noted that LMT has invested heavily in its product development over the past few years, adding that their firearms are among the most state-of-the-art worldwide.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) attended the ceremony and noted its significance.

"Estonia is one of our most reliable allies in international operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. We are greatly honored that Estonia will start using weapons manufactured in the U.S.," Sen. Ernst said at the ceremony, adding that she was proud of Estonia, standing as it is on the front line against Russian aggression.

Initially, Estonia is to acquire 16,000 automatic, customized firearms, plus accessories. The first weapons will arrive in the country at the beginning of 2020, slated for the active service Scouts Battalion.

Conscripts and reservists of the 1st and 2nd Infantry Brigades, and members of the voluntary Defence League (Kaitseliit) are also to receive the weapons, later on, as are both the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) and the justice ministry.

LMT Defense was founded 1980, manufacturing small arms used by several U.S. military and related structures, as well as by U.K. special forces unit, the Special Air Service Regiment (SAS), the New Zealand Army, and the armed forces of several NATO member states.

Priit Soosar, head of the procurement at the Centre for Defence Investments, signed the contract on behalf of Estonia, with Karl Lewis, founder and CEO of LMT, signing on the company's behalf. Estonian Ambassador to the U.S. Jonatan Vseviov also attended the ceremony.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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