TALLINN - Largely due to Russia waging a war against Ukraine, Estonian political parties have arrived at a consensus that defense spending should be increased further, and the minister of defense has said that the war should show if Estonia's national defense development plan should be expedited or if some other capabilities should be developed instead, Postimees reports.
Estonian Minister of Defense Kallet Laanet gave a press conference on Thursday with British Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace, where he also commented on a possible boost to Estonia's defense spending.
"I am of the opinion that we definitely need to review how to bring the developments in our ten-year action plan forward. We've already made some of the decisions," Laanet said, referring to the government's additional allocation of 340 million euros to military national defense. "Life after Feb. 24 shows that additional expenditures on national defense must materialize."
Director of the Estonian Center for Defense Investment Magnus-Valdemar Saar said that the majority of the additional funding, or some 300 million euros, have already been spent on ammunition.
"A large part of the additional package has already been covered with agreements and supplies are awaiting delivery. [The agreements] mainly concern ammunition for various types of systems," Saar said.
"Essentially, it was used for improving the strategic sustainability of our defense forces -- with regard to many types of ammunition, supplies were increased by days," Saar said.
If the government should make any more extraordinary allocations for defense spending, a political decision has to be made, according to Saar.
"It is a matter of political choices whether to expedite the existing development plans or draw any specific conclusions, perhaps also from the ongoing conflict," he said.
Minister of Defense Kalle Laanet said, however, that the war in Ukraine may provide a direction for Estonia on how to spend its defense budget.
"The ongoing war must definitely show which type of capability-building is of primary importance and where we should contribute in particular. If that becomes clear, decisions on where to direct the funds can be made in the government and parliament. There are two sides to it -- securing primary capabilities that need to be developed rapidly, and the other side is the longer-term aspect," Laanet said.
Commander of the Estonian defense forces Lt. Gen. Martin Herem said that there can never be too much defense spending. When asked how much more funding is necessary and which gaps should be plugged, Herem mentioned the capabilities in the latest national defense development plan, such as anti-tank weapons, anti-aircraft weapons and armoring the 2nd Infantry Brigade.
"Today, I make preparations for one year in advance. You'd give us 100 million in addition to what we have today? It would go towards short- range air defense. 300 million? More short-range air defense capability and ammunition. 500 million? I'd probably start speaking about including medium-range air defense on top of that. One billion? I'd get the 2nd Brigade armored as fast as possible and bolster our anti-aircraft capability," Herem said, commenting on how he would spend additional funding.
Most likely, however, increased defense spending would mean expedited implementation of the national defense development plan.
There is no immediate prospect of additional funding, however. Sources from the Ministry of Defense told Postimees that there will not be a supplementary budget. Thus, possible additional funding for national defense will not be discussed until the 2023 state budget talks begin in the fall.
Until then, the lessons provided by the war in Ukraine, such as Russia's weaknesses and strengths, are being mapped out in order to arrange Estonia's priorities accordingly.
The director of the Estonian Center for Defense Investment, Magnus-Valdemar Saar, said that the ongoing war should not result in any changes in the market, such as making equipment unavailable or increasing prices.
"It is rather that obtaining some products may prove more difficult, we may end up not getting exactly what we had hoped for or may need to make some compromises," Saar said, adding that delivery times are normally rather long, ranging from 18 to 24 months.
Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab from the Center Party told Postimees that discussions are held on an ongoing basis but decisions should be well thought out. When asked if it is certain that there will not be a supplementary budget, Aab said that this particular decision has yet to be made.
The national defense development plan completed in December last year underscored that in addition to traditional capability-building, attention needs to be paid also to possible security threats pertaining to modern phenomena and hybrid warfare.
Kusti Salm, secretary general of the Ministry of Defense, said that the ministry has already determined that the costs of all the military developments presented in the development plan are realistic. All market prices, the inflation forecast by the Ministry of Finance, increase in construction prices and the general logic of the labor market as well as the rapid growth of average wages have been taken into account.
It became clear already in October 2020 that Estonia is to acquire anti-ship missiles capable of firing at a distance of up to 300 kilometers. Estonia will also acquire sea mines, some of which are set to be delivered already this year. An agreement was also reached at government level on merging the fleets of the Estonian Navy and the Police and Border Guard Board.
Procurements of a multiple launch rocket system covering a distance from 30 to 300 kilometers is planned to start next year.
"Hopefully, we'll be able to do it in cooperation with Latvia and Lithuania and attract funding from the United States. If that fails, we'll move forward on our own to get it as quickly as possible," Salm said.
Salm pointed out as an important development the maneuvering capability of the 2nd Infantry Brigade having been brought to the same level as that of the 1st Infantry Brigade. The defense forces are also to get up to two battalions' worth of armored vehicles.
The anti-tank capability of territorial defense and the brigades are likewise to be boosted and single-use medium-range anti-tank weapons will be procured for all infantry units. The air surveillance and air defense system will be improved and new weapons procured.
The number of conscripts is to grow to 4,000 by 2025 and the number of active duty personnel will be increased to 3,975 by 2030.
Amari Air Base will be renovated and the staff and logistics centers of the Kaitseliit (Defense League) volunteer corps will be developed. The construction of the defense forces' training grounds and warehouses will continue as will extensive infrastructure renovations. A modern war and disaster medicine center will be established in Tartu.