Ground troops get 44 guardian angels

Pursuant to contact signed in The Hague yesterday Estonia purchases 44 combat vehicles CV90, the Defence Forces thus able to spice resistance to a possible armoured foe with some surprise attack.

On Amersfoort training field, more than 30 tonnes of steel peels the earth beneath and speeds where it wills, no matter the terrain. A division of men jumps off while the thing is still moving and merges with the landscape milky with smoke cover. The soldiers are Dutch, but the CV90 is soon ours.

Captain Wolf Berendsen of the Dutch Royal Armoured Infantry Battalion is a man who says he’s grown up to be an officer on the vehicles purchased by Estonians.

Capt. Berendsen sums it up like this: CV90 is not inferior to a tank, neither in mobility nor speed. The way this high tech works is impressive. To give the guys inside a full picture of what’s happening, the machine is equipped with cameras on all sides. Live coverage is shown on four screens, while the commander, shooter and driver have an equally good view night and day.

Thus, it’s no problem for the vehicle to speed on «all terrain» at 50 to 60 km/h, even backwards. As the rapid fire cannon and machine gun are stabilised, the shooter will hardly ever miss even on bumps and hills.

According to Capt. Berendsen, a great strength is the ability of CV90 to automatically discern if it is under laser sight by a weapon. Thus, the team has a few seconds to change position.

The 35 mm rapid fire cannon works with a programmer which is able to change the timing for ammunition to explode. «For instance, if the target is spread out – like infantry – the ammunition can be set to explode 15 metres before it hits them. Then, the position comes under a hail of bullets,» described Capt. Berendsen.

While Holland has not used the vehicles in crisis areas, CV90 has done battle in Afghanistan under Danish, Swedish and Norwegian command. No casualties, though the Norwegians did drive into a large mine.

Now, Holland sells Estonia 44 of the 193 CV90s it owns. The deal amounts to €138m and we get the vehicles, support machines and servicing kits. Also, the sum includes a soon joint procurement of ammunition and spare parts with Holland.

Holland bought 184 brand new CV90s in 2004 when the producer asked €749m i.e. an average of four million per vehicle. They went into exploitation in 2008–2012 and will be sold to Estonian in a condition when they will be fit for service for about 25 more years.

The CV90 purchase project manager, Lieutenant Colonel Kalle Teras said the buy boosts Estonia’s attack capability. «Our current Pasi personnel carriers can bring us from the rear to front line. From there on, to organise an attack with these is very difficult. Now, the CV90s will grant us a huge advantage to attack the enemy’s infantry if they are equipped with combat vehicles. At that, CV90s are much more effective than what are facing us,» said Lieut. Col. Teras.

As the vehicles arrive in Estonia in 2016–2018, it is planned to give them to the Scoutsbattalion which will move from Paldiski to Tapa, due to the closeness there to training fields and central polygon. The Estonian public will get a glimpse of the vehicles as soon as this February, with six Dutch CV90s expected to participate.

When signing the contract yesterday, the Dutch defence minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert said she was doing so with a heavy heart, but fully assured the machines are in good hands.

She was not willing to disclose how many other countries had expressed interest towards the CV90s, and why they decided in favour of Estonia. All that the minister said was that the decision was taken a year ago, but that the negotiations had been going on for longer than that.

According to Captain Remko Colier who trains the CV90 teams at Amersfoort, seeing the vehicles go is surely a sad day for his brigade. Of the original of nearly 190, the kingdom will only retain 88 in active use. These that are not sold to Estonia will go for spare parts.

«Of course we will miss the machines sold to Estonia. One of our brigades will again be transformed into a wheeled armoured machine brigade, which is a little less capable and less protected. But this is a political issue and we submit to that,» said Capt. Colier.

He is not the only one puzzled by the recent steps by politicians. In Holland, the deal with Estonia has been in sharp limelight being yet another step towards shedding armoured battle equipment.

As early as in 2010, Holland begun sales of its battle tanks Leopard 2A6 and the last 100 were sold to Finnish defence forces this spring. As told Postimees by a Dutch defence ministry employee, the decisions come out of the long term shortage of funds in defence budget as Holland only invests 1.17 percent of GDP in national defence. The budget, however, has not been boosted because, up until recently, the threat from the East seemed insignificant.

To the backdrop of giving up the tanks and what is happening in Ukraine, sales of CV90s to Estonia has indeed come under criticism, but the Dutch defence ministry does see a silver lining. Namely: the machines stay in the Alliance and Estonia – even if symbolically – has a much greater use for these.

As for Holland, it does want to replace the CV90s with more lightweight Thales Bushmaster as the kingdom is weighing participation in Afghanistan follow-up mission where these come in handy indeed.

The journalist’s trip to Holland was financed by Estonian defence ministry.

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Infantry combat vehicle CV9035NL MKIII

Produced in 2008–2011 in Sweden

Top speed: 70 km/h

Operation range: up to 600 km

Advantages on Estonian landscape: good at soft terrain, air conditioning

Purpose: supporting infantry and tank units in battle, neutralising armoured equipment

Crew: 3 (commander, shooter and driver) + 8 troops

Purchase contract: 44 infantry combat vehicles, 6 unarmed support vehicles based on tanks Leopard I, armoured vehicle servicing kits, ammunition joint procurement with Holland

Cost: €138m, €113m of that for combat vehicles. One CV90 costs €2.47m

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Armaments:

35 mm autocannon ATK Bushmaster III (effective shooting range 2 km)

7.62 mm machine gun

10 channels for shooting frags and smoke grenades

Armour: protection against 7.62 mm machine gun fire, self-made mines, and in the front against ammunition up to 30 mm

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Timetable for arrival in Estonia:

September 2016: 11 combat vehicles + 1 special machine

September 2017: 16 combat vehicles + 3 special machines

2018: 17 combat vehicles + 2 special machines

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Biggest weapons procurements

Estonia’s largest procurements thus far

•          Short distance anti aircraft land-to-air rocket system Mistral, purchased in 2007 for about 1.2 billion kroons (€76m)

•          Three Sandown-class minehunters, purchased in 2006, priced at about 800 billion kroons (€51m)

•          Arms and equipment purchase from Israel, in 1993, for 785 million kroons (€50m) PM

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Procurement cooperation with Holland

Over a decade, Holland has sold Estonia large quantities of good quality means of transport, armoured vehicles, trailers, and now infantry combat vehicles at favourable prices.

Since 2004, Estonia has entered into seven procurement contracts with Holland, totalling about €40m. Compared with new equivalent equipment, these bought from Holland come at 10 to 30 percent of market price.

From Holland, Estonia has purchased 1,100 little used trucks and jeeps, nearly 500 trailers, special purpose containers and other equipment as ambulances, fire trucks, generators, medical equipment, snow fighting gear, spare parts, camouflage nets, fuel jerricans etc.

In 2010, Holland sold Estonia 81 armoured personnel carriers SISU XA-188 complete with extras and service kits.

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