The Defense Forces development plan prescribes creation of a cyber command, procurement of mobile artillery, and sharply increased number of conscripts. The much-debated plan of procuring tanks has been shelved for the time being.
The Ministry of Defense will present the details of the 2017-2026 national defense development plan today.
If the previous long-term development plan concentrated on building up functional primary defensive capacity by creating two brigades, territorial defense, and armored maneuver capacity, the new plan aims to reinforce links that might otherwise keep the aforementioned capacities from working in unison.
Women in all military units
Changes that affect society the most concern compulsory military service. If over the past four years the state has conscripted at least 3,200 young people annually, the minimum for the next ten years will be 4,000 conscripts.
The decision is noteworthy as Commander of the Defense Forces, Lt. Gen. Riho Terras was forced to admit when presenting the previous national defense plan as recently as in 2012 that the physical condition of young people affords the Defense Forces just 3,200-3,500 conscripts a year. Additionally, Defense Forces instructors and conditions were not prepared to handle more people.
Because there is no major improvement in the physical condition of young people on the horizon, the plan of growing the number of conscripts must rely on a package of new solutions. The Kalev Infantry Battalion is working on a new conscript training program. A revision of conscripts' state of health requirements is also not out of the question, while efforts need to be made to further improve the ability of units to train, house, and equip conscripts.
One area where the defense ministry expects progress is greater involvement of women in national defense. The Defense Resources Board is currently authorized to accept around 40 young women into military service as their training and accommodation can only be ensured in Tapa and the Kuperjanov Infantry Battalion. The Viru and Kalev infantry battalions, the navy, the Guard Battalion, Logistics Battalion, as well as the Headquarters Support and Signal Battalion remain closed to women.
Last week, Minister of Defense Hannes Hanso signed a draft regulation to raise the maximum number of female conscripts to 108 by 2018 and give women the possibility to serve in all military units. The ultimate goal is to abolish the ceiling on number of women in the Defense Forces for good.
All these decisions serve the second important item in the development plan: to increase the Defense Forces' rapid reaction structure from the current 21,000 fighters to 25,000. Changes will be greatest in the 2nd Infantry Brigade and come in the form of a second infantry battalion and an artillery battalion, as well as improved anti-air capacity.
The Defense League, in charge of territorial defense in five regions, should be given more rights and responsibility. The Defense Forces' wartime structure will be bolstered with 1,500 new people with Defense League training.
Development of the 1st Infantry Brigade into a strong armored brigade will continue as its recently arrived CV9035 infantry fighting vehicles and existing SISU armored personnel carriers need to be complemented with self-propelled artillery. Also long range anti-tank weaponry sporting a range of 4-8 kilometers. However, tanks have been postponed.
The reason why Estonia is not in a hurry to create a tank battalion of its own lies in the Warsaw summit decisions from July. The alliance will station in Estonia an 800-1,200-men battalion battlegroup comprised of British, Danish, and French soldiers and armored machinery that will probably include tanks. While their exact number remains unknown, chains of command in case of crisis or war have already been set.
The USA will also station an armored brigade not far from Estonia, in Poland, to secure the eastern flank of NATO. Because the latter will very probably take part in training exercises in the Baltic countries, tanks should become a frequent occurrence at the Defense Forces central polygon.
Defense planners on Sakala street therefore do not believe that Estonia's 400-500 million euro annual defense budget should facilitate tanks any time soon. Tanks would create major fixed costs, while the Defense Forces is nearing its limits maintaining current capacities as it is. Rather the country should concentrate on reinforcing capacities the alliance needs to make decisions or realize defense plans.
NATO generals are first and foremost looking to Estonian intelligence, and the development plan will contribute strongly in that direction. Specific procurements remain classified, while it is clear both infantry brigades will get UAVs.
Estonia is also expected to take charge in the field of cyber warfare. The development plan prescribes the creation of a cyber command as a fifth service to give Estonia military cyber operations capacity, in other words the ability to not only defend against cyber attacks but also retaliate.
Central situation center
The US cyber command was created to pursue the same goals in 2010 and has had to fight attempts by ISIS to damage or take over networks. Germany is currently in the process of creating a national cyber command.
Threat assessments completed prior to the development plan suggest that potential aggressors could employ a mix of military and non-military measures, from propaganda attacks in social media to sabotage, leaving cities without power or crippling cell coverage all over the country.
The state plans to create a central situation center to better manage crises and work out models of how vital state agencies could relocate and continue to operate in case of attack.