The International Centre for Defence and Security presented the Ministry of Defence with the findings of a study on the possibilities for strengthening the air defence capabilities of the Baltic Republics.
The report notes that the effective functioning of an air defence system is, by its very nature, multi-layered, being comprised of a well-functioning advance warning system, monitoring capability and weapons systems as well as well-qualified personnel who are able to manage air defence operations and operate air defence systems.
The author’s admit that, within the context of the Baltic region, cooperation between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania is important, as well as cooperation with Allies in the framework of NATO. Air defence is important when it comes to ensuring initial independent defence capability in the event of the outbreak of a crisis, as well as defending the Allied forces that are already located here or are deployed to the region in the event of a crisis.
The author’s emphasise that finding a sustainable solution to the air defence challenge can only come from cooperation between the Baltic Republics and their Allies, since the development and maintenance of a comprehensive air defence system exceeds the capabilities of the Baltic Republics alone.
The report recommends that the Baltic Republics focus on developing management and communications systems that are compatible with NATO’s air defence, and harmonising short-range and medium-range air defence systems. It is recommended that NATO units rotating into the region for training exercises and as part of Enhanced Forward Presence be armed with short-range air defence, that medium-range and long-range air defence systems be deployed to the Baltic Republics as part of training exercises, that a common air picture be exchanged with Finland and Sweden, and that procedures be developed and practiced for transitioning from a NATO air policing mission to an air defence mission.
One of the authors of the report, Sven Sakkov, Director of the International Centre for Defence and Security, stated that the report illustrates the complexity of developing and maintaining a modern air defence system. According to Sakkov, over the years Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have made great strides in filling the gaps, but there is still quite a bit to be done. At the same time, Sakkov noted that the report clearly states that the development of an air defence system in the region requires actions on the part of Allies and all of NATO.
Since joining NATO, the Baltic Republics have made great efforts and investments in building up the region’s air defence systems and supportive infrastructure. Considerable resources have been directed towards developing Ämari, Lielvarde and Šiauliai air bases, as well as sensors, radar, communications networks and personnel.
In order to develop an air defence communication and management system, the Baltic Republics are planning on establishing three independent air traffic control centres by 2020, to replace the current single Kaunas (Karmėlava) Air Traffic Control Centre
Development of the field of air defence will also continue in Estonia over the next few years; for example, in 2022 there is a plan to bring the air defence of the 2nd Infantry Brigade to the level of that of the 1st Infantry Brigade, and during the period 2018-2022 the plan is to invest in additional ammunition for the MISTRAL system within the framework of the defence investments programme.
Opportunities for developing a medium-range air defence capability were last analysed during the preparation of the currently valid national defence development plan. The development of a medium-range air defence system with minimum military efficiency is currently beyond Estonia’s capabilities at the current level of defence expenditures. The acquisition of a corresponding system would entail an investment of approx. EUR 300 million (half of which would be spent on a communication and radar system) and the sizeable increase in permanent costs which, in addition to the added infrastructure costs and the cost of updating ammunition stocks, would be supplemented with approx. 50 posts for active servicemen within the structure of the Defence Forces and the equipping and training of nearly 150 reservists.
The report was ordered by the Ministry of Defence for the purpose of consolidating together a comprehensive picture of a complex currently existing air defence system and the need for one in the future in the Baltic region. In particular, the study helps to bring clarity to air defence being one of NATO’s most critical capability deficiencies in the region.
The study was prepared by Air Marshal Sir Christopher Harper, from the United Kingdom; Sven Sakkov, Director of the International Centre for Defence and Security; and centre researcher Tony Lawrence.
The study will be presented for the first time at the Lennart Meri Conference, taking place in Tallinn this weekend.