A contract signed in the manufacturing plant of LMT Defense (formerly Lewis Machine & Tool) (LMT) in Iowa yesterday will see the Estonian defense forces take delivery of its new automatic rifles next year. The new weapons made to specification for the EDF are called Rahe R-20 (Hail R-20).
The name was picked by a panel of defense forces and defense ministry experts based on hail being an unpleasant experience for those caught in it. The LMT rifle is the second new weapon coming to Estonia to be named after weather phenomena, following the recent procurement of K9 Thunder mobile artillery from South Korea.
Speeches that preceded the signing of one of the biggest weapons procurements in Estonian history attempted to highlight the significance of the moment for Estonia, the Iowa-based manufacturer and the US in general.
“It is a big deal!” said Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, speaking in the LMT manufacturing hangar.
Senator Ernst was the highest-ranking guest at the ceremony, offering Washington’s perspective. “You will be manufacturing arms here in Iowa that will be sent directly to the forefront of NATO, to Estonia near the Russian border, and it is important for Americans – both that these weapons are present in the region and that they were made by Americans” – a short summary of the senator’s speech would read.
Estonia’s first order will be for 16,000 rifles and equipment. The contract will see Estonia procure €75 million worth of firearms and equipment over a seven-year period. The weapons are modular and can be reassembled and customized as necessary.
The first rifles will be handed over to the Scouts Battalion. Next in line are the conscripts and professionals of the 1st and 2nd infantry battalions and members of the Estonian Defense League. The Police and Border Guard Board and the justice ministry will also be outfitted as part of the procurement.
Estonian Ambassador to the US Jonatan Vseviov, who has intimate knowledge of the procurement process from his time as secretary general of the defense ministry, opted for a more philosophical note.
“A soldier’s weapon is their most important companion. It is something that must always work. And that is why it is important the EDF has the best, the most modern arms available,” the ambassador said in his speech.
Head of the defense ministry’s defense investments department, incoming director of the Defense Investments Center Kusti Salm emphasized the significance of the contract for Estonia: “We carry out around a thousand procurements every year, but this one is the most important as it reaches every individual soldier, every member of the reserve as what they take to war, what protects them and allows them to mount an assault.
Salm said it is symbolic the contract was signed with a US firm. “This way, we do not have to hide the fact that America is Estonia’s security guarantee number one, two and three,” he said.
Founder and owner of LMT Defense Karl Lewis saw the significance of Estonia’s procurement first and foremost in that the client is a NATO country that chose LMT over its competitors. “It is a very strong seal of quality for our products,” he emphasized. Lewis added that the contract makes it possible other NATO powers will take an interest in LMT products – word spreads within the alliance.