TALLINN - Last week the Estonian Advisory Council for the Minister of Defense was given a thorough overview of the new National Defense Development Plan for 2013-2022, which was prepared in cooperation with the Defense Forces and the Ministry of Defense with the aim of increasing the fighting power of the Estonian Defense Forces, reports LETA.
“The development plan foresees increasing the rapid response capabilities and the number of personnel of the Defense Forces, giving the National Defense League a leading role in territorial defense, as well as new armaments and equipment,” said Minister of Defense Urmas Reinsalu.
According to the minister of defense, the officers of the Defense Forces and Ministry of Defense officials have spent the year analyzing and planning and have drawn up the best military defense solution for Estonia.
“Two fully manned, armed and equipped infantry brigades with rapid response capability will be created. The fighting power and the firepower of the entire Defense Forces will be significantly improved because the armaments will include infantry fighting vehicles, self-propelled artillery and modern anti-tank missile systems,” said Colonel Peeter Hoppe, chief of the Headquarters of the Estonian Defense Forces, when presenting the details of the development plan.
According to the defense minister, the development plan, in addition to expanding the armaments, also underlines the most valuable asset of the defense forces - its experienced members.
“We intend to increase the number of active members of the defense forces to 3,600 and we have earmarked additional funds to the salary fund, allowing us to increase the salaries of the active members by 18.7 percent on average from April 1, 2013,” said Reinsalu.
“All those who worked on the development plan really made a concerted effort. The salary increase of the members of the defense forces can be considered its greatest success,” said Leo Kunnas, chairman of the Advisory Council.
The National Defense Development Plan for 2013-2022 that was presented to the public on Dec. 12 will be presented by the Ministry of Defense to the government for approval at the beginning of next year. After the development plan has been approved by the government, an operational program will be prepared for the development plan setting out the time frame for its implementation.
The purpose of the Advisory Council for the Minister of Defense is to analyze various areas in Estonia’s defense and security policies, advises the minister of defense, and thereby involves various people and philosophies in the development of national defense.
Members of the Advisory Council include Leo Kunnas, Iivi Anna Masso, Leo Motus, Erik Reinhold, Aivar Riisalu, Hannes Toomsalu, Toomas Luman, Toomas Peek, Jaak Valge, Eerik-Niiles Kross, Toomas Hiio, Raivo Tamm, Tonu Tannberg, Vello Vainsalu, Martin Hurt, Kaido Pihlakas and Andres Anvelt.
The development plan for the Defense Forces prescribes that at least 3,200 young men would be called for conscription service every year instead of the 2,500 in the previous development plan. Defense Forces commander-in-chief, Brigade General Riho Terras said that 3,200-3,500 people is the amount that can be called into conscription service in Estonia in a year.
“In recent years we have really accepted almost everyone to the service who doesn’t have some restriction or extension, and we intend to continue like that,” he said.
Another change that will be implemented is that only reserve military who have served their conscription service in Estonia will be included in the reserve forces, meaning that people who served their service in the Soviet army won’t be included in the reserve forces anymore.
“This is a ten-year plan and people who have served their conscription service in the Soviet army reach an age where using them for state defense is no longer practical. Exceptions are possible though,” said Terras.
As a result of the changes, Estonia should have a reserve army of nearly 90,000 men by the year 2022.
State finances force changes
The defense development plan presented to the Riigikogu state defense committee includes a number of major changes, mainly because of changed financial circumstances, reports Postimees. The separate land forces, navy and air forces headquarters with their many staff members will disappear. Defense districts will be reorganized. There won’t be any intermediate links anymore; the Defense Forces will be headed by the Defense Forces headquarters. Several major procurements written into the currently valid development plan will be scrapped – tanks, helicopters for the defense forces, midrange anti-aircraft missile systems, speedboats for the navy, the planned Jagala military base.
One of the main reasons behind the plans is financing. While in 2009, when then-Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo reported about the 2009-2018 military development plan, the plan was to spend 60 billion kroons (3.8 billion euros) in ten years on state defense. Around 2.3 billion euros would have been everyday costs and 1.5 billion euros arms procurements and other investments.
All plans were made during the economic boom, though, when tax collection grew more than ten percent a year and politicians were forecasting when Estonia would become one of the wealthiest EU states.
Mart Laar, who was the defense minister later, wrote in Postimees a year ago that this money is by a billion smaller than before and informed sources say that current Defense Minister Reinsalu has continued Laar’s instructions in this respect.
Postimees says that money is not the only reason, though. The matter is that the Defense Forces have been developed badly for a long time, trying to develop in many directions at the same time, pursuing international cooperation (NATO) and Estonia’s own defense abilities. The Estonian Defense Forces look big on paper and resemble in its structure some big state’s army, but, actually, it is a large group of lightly armed people and many simple and practical issues are unsolved, the daily says.
The new defense development plan thus intends to revise the whole structure of the Defense Forces, cutting headquarters staff, and solve all these smaller problems that add up to a combined big problem.
President Toomas Hendrik Ilves met on Dec. 10 with Minister of Defense Reinsalu and Brigadier General Terras, who introduced him to the new 10 year national defense development plan. The president acknowledged the officials of the Ministry of Defense and officers of the General Staff of the defense forces for establishing ambitious, yet realistic, specific, justified and affordable objectives for Estonia’s national defense.
“The conclusions and background information submitted by the minister of defense and Commander of the Defense Forces were convincing. Estonia has got itself a new and realistic national defense development plan,” said President Ilves.