Baltic armies continue to modernise with a wary eye on Russia
The Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania may accelerate their rearmament programmes by developing their own weapon systems as well as procuring them from abroad, according to recent statements from Latvian MoD officials and leading regional military experts.
This policy assumes greater importance in view of the ongoing political unrest in Belarus, which borders Latvia and Lithuania. Strong popular protests in Belarus aim to overturn a disputed election result and force President Alexander Lukashenko from office. However, Lukashenko has appealed to Russia for military support – causing alarm bells to ring in the Baltic republics.
Procurement plans for the three countries already reflect the Joint Action Plan for NATO Allied Armed Forces which was approved in 2014.
For example, Latvia is buying 123 CVR(T) lightweight combat vehicles, including Scimitars, Spartans, Sultans, Samsons and Samaritans, from the UK MoD for delivery by 2021.
Latvia is also procuring an undisclosed variant of the Spike ATGM for its CVR(T) fleet, with 70 launchers and 700 missiles on order to be delivered by 2023.
Estonia is buying Spike LR and other weapon systems under its wide-ranging National Defence Development Plan for 2017-2026.
According to the Estonian Ministry of Defence, most of the €5.5 billion ($) investment centres on increasing the number of reservists, as well as training and combat equipment purchases.
Just as Latvia is paying close attention to modernising its army, so Estonia is considering additional purchases of armoured combat vehicles, primarily for the 1st Infantry Brigade (the main army unit in northern Estonia).
The Estonian MoD has already obtained 44 second-hand CV9035NL Мk III IFVs (pictured) from the Netherlands. It also plans to replace about 100 outdated XA Pasi APCs with a new 6x6 vehicle, designed by Patria with backing from the Estonian, Finnish and Latvian governments.
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Some Russian analysts are sceptical about the capabilities for the new 6x6 APC. Victor Murakhovsky, editor-in-chief of Russian magazine Arsenal of the Fatherland, said the new carrier will be developed with an emphasis on cost effeciency rather than creating a brand-new platform from scratch.
The likeliest prospect is a low-cost 6x6 variant of the Patria AMV, Murakhovsky argued, bearing similarities with the Polish Rosomak APC.
The fast pace of armed forces modernisation in Estonia extends to artillery. South Korean manufacturer Hanwha Defense announced in late August that it sold six more K9 Thunder SPHs to Estonia in the first half of 2020, despite concerns of a delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This KRW26.1 billion ($21.96 million) order followed a contract for 12 SPHs that was signed in 2018.
Lithuania appears to be on track to receive its first Joint Light Tactical Vehicles from Oshkosh in 2021 but another army programme has suffered a setback. In 2016, the Lithuanian MoD signed a €385.6 million contract with NATO procurement agency OCCAR for 88 Boxer IFVs.
Designated Vilkas (Wolf) by the Lithuanian Army, the IFVs will replace M113 tracked APCs in service with some battalions in the Iron Wolf Mechanised Infantry Brigade.
The first pair of Boxers was delivered in June 2019 but subsequent shipments have been due to unspecified issues identified during the inspection process. Deliveries are now expected to be completed in 2021.
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