South Korean K9 mobile artillery, presented at the Defense Forces Central Polygon last week, and new assault rifles constitute this year’s most visible defense investments that help take the Estonian Defense Forces’ weaponry to the next level. However, for the Estonian Defense Investments Center, these are just two of its numerous procurements.
A big part of the defense budget will be spent on munitions procurements. In 2017-2019, ammunition counted for a third of all investments.
Head of the center’s procurements department Magnus-Valdemar Saar said that Estonia spent considerable sums on wartime munitions in the last three years, procuring anti-tank missiles, 120 and 155 mm artillery shells, 35 mm ammunition for Estonia’s infantry fighting vehicles and missiles for the Mistral air defense system. “Munitions investments will continue in the coming years in the rough volume of €50 million a year. The center will concentrate on procuring long-range anti-tank missiles Spike, Mistral air defense missiles and small caliber munitions in the near future,” Saar said.
Estonia took delivery of the last CV90 IFVs procured from the Netherlands last year that concluded the Defense Forces’ largest weaponry project since Estonia regained its independence. Estonia bought a total of 44 IFVs the first 12 of which arrived in the fall of 2016.
Soldiers to be given flak jackets next year
“We will be regularly investing €22-25 million in personal protective gear annually. We procured new helmets last year, while we plan to have a contract for flak jackets in 2021,” Saar explained.
This year will see the completion of the navy minehunters’ modernization project that cost €32 million. The project was launched in 2018 and the vessels that were modernized in Scotland will be handed over to the navy this year. Estonia’s three minehunters, Admiral Cowan, Sakala and Ugandi, were modernized to extend their service life until 2035. The vessels were given modern and more reliable sonar and radar equipment, mine warfare systems and diving robots. The modernized systems need less frequent servicing.
The navy will also take delivery of two patrol boats that constitute the first new vessels the navy has procured in some time. The boats will be built by Estonian contractor Baltic Workboats and will have considerable firepower considering their size, including ship weapons and machine guns. The patrol boats will also be self-righting.
The Estonian Air Force has at its disposal two M-28 Skytruck planes from last year. The adoption of the two aircraft gave the EDF new aerial transport, fire control training and aerial reconnaissance capacity. The EDF plans to equip both planes with electronic surveillance equipment to further expand their usefulness.
Defense Forces to get new radar courtesy of climate policy
“Other Air Force matters concern major radar projects that will see the procurement of an additional so-called climate radar and a mid-life upgrade for air defense radars,” Magnus-Valdemar Saar said. The government decided to make necessary investments in improving air surveillance capacity in Northeastern Estonia last year so that companies could build wind farms in Ida-Viru County without clashing with national defense interests. There are currently height restrictions in place for wind turbines in the county as the towering turbines disrupt the work of air defense radars. The government has allocated funds for an additional radar so that Estonia could hit its energy and climate policy targets. The funding is not part of the defense budget.
A project to develop marine surveillance and air defense capacity in cooperation with USA is also underway.
The Defense Forces development plan for 2017-2026 prescribes intelligence and early warning developments using drones. Saar said that drone procurements have been successfully concluded and the devices handed over to the EDF.
One of the largest projects of the coming years concerns rebuilding of support armored vehicles for which the Defense Investments Center hopes to sign a contract before the year is out. While Estonia procured cheap armored vehicle chassis from Norway for the purpose, the manufacturer of necessary original spare parts is asking a price that is unacceptable for the EDF. The chassis have been standing idle in hangars for years. Now, the EDF has finished a thorough analysis of what the rebuild will take.
K9 mobile artillery auxiliary armored vehicles procurement is also in the pipeline as is a project to replace current 6×6 armored personnel carriers. Market research is underway to prepare for those procurements.
Saar said that one of the largest new procurement of the coming years will be the acquisition of a coastal defense system. The EDF plans to buy a coastal defense system made up of mines and anti-ship missiles.
New goals to be revealed in new development plan
“The coming years will see further deliveries of the K9s, assault rifles and munitions. However, it needs to be said that the lion’s share of annual defense spending goes towards maintaining existing systems. Land vehicles service and repairs cost around €35 million a year, while aerial and marine vehicles require around €10-12 million each; communications systems maintenance comes to €20 million and weaponry maintenance to €11 million. Money is also spent on training equipment, targets and medical equipment,” Saar listed.
A notable part of defense investments will be spent on infrastructure procurements. The Estonian Defense Investments Center manages the country’s second largest real estate portfolio the annual maintenance of which costs in the vicinity of €20 million. New defense infrastructure investments amount to €40-50 million annually.
No new weapons systems will be procured based on the current 2017-2026 development plan. New potential capacities will have to be agreed on in the new development plan.
Defense investments are limited by the volume of the state budget. In 2019, defense expenses amounted to €585 million. The Ministry of Defense created the riigikaitseareng.ee website in mid-September where it says that the UK aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth costs €8.2 billion or 14 annual Estonian defense budgets. A tank battalion costs €900 million or nearly two annual budgets.