TALLINN - Estonia will launch one of its biggest military procurements in a decade when it announces the purchase of an air missile defense system worth up to 700 million kroons (44.7 million euros). On Dec. 1, the Defense Ministry announced it would acquire a whole range of equipment, from air defense missile system to fighter jets.
"For the first time we are going to procure a modern air defense capacity, a mobile radar, communications and missile system. This is an effective deterrent to attackers and defense for the future infantry brigade," Defense Minister Jurgen Ligi said.
A Defense Ministry spokesman said the development plan called for spending 700 million kroons on the missile procurement project until 2010. The exact cost of the system would be established during negotiations with MDBA Missile System group, the company that submitted the winning tender application.
The system will consist of missiles, communications, command and control systems and radars and will provide air defense capability to an infantry brigade.
Its main objective will be to fend off an enemy's combat helicopters and attack aircraft, the spokesman said.
The system must also protect strategic assets such as airports, ports and government buildings, and provide security during important events.
According to the contract, the air defense system is to be delivered during 2007-08 and be fully operational by 2009.
Similar systems are used by defense forces in Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, France, Hungary and Spain.
The procurement process began in August 2005 when Estonia called for tender submissions. The MBDA Missile Systems bid beat off a rival tender from the U.S. company Raytheon, which manufactures Stinger missiles.
The missile purchase is one of the two largest defense procurements of the last 10 years, exceeded only by the replacement of the Navy's mine-hunting vessels, which will cost 800 million kroons.
The announcement came the same week that Parliament appointed a new commander of its defense forces.
Major General Ants Laaneots, current chief of the Estonian National Defense College, was nominated to the position by President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and supported by Parliament.
Laaneots, 58, began his career in the Soviet tank forces, and was tasked with re-establishing the general staff of the military after Estonia regained independence, which he headed until 1994. He left the military to work as regional director for the private security firm ESS but returned to service in 1997.
Laaneots replaced Vice Admiral Tarmo Kouts, who resigned from the post to stand as a candidate for the center-right party the Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica in the forthcoming elections.
At his first press conference, Laaneots refused to be drawn on whether he believed Estonia should abolish its conscript military service.
He said switching to a fully professional army was a political decision.
"When I'm the commander of the defense forces, I'm obliged to obey the decisions made by the organs of power," Laaneots said.
But he added that the defense forces' development plan made no mention of switching to a fully paid army.
Fresh after the NATO summit at which greater participation in missions was demanded, the Estonian government has submitted plans to Parliament that would extend the service of its military personnel in Iraq by up to one year.
Under the bill, the mission would be extended for one year from Jan. 1, when the parliamentary mandate over the current mission expires.
According to the cover letter to the bill, participation in the mission is directly linked to Estonia's security interests.
The Baltic state currently contributes up to 40 personnel to the Iraqi mission, which it has participated in since 2003. Two soldiers have been killed during the operation and 19 have been injured, two of them seriously.