Defense Forces Commander would extend the duration of military service because of new weapons

Andres Einmann
, Eesti uudiste päevatoimetaja
If the proposal of the head of the defense forces is supported by politicians, conscripts will have to consider at least one year of service in the future.
If the proposal of the head of the defense forces is supported by politicians, conscripts will have to consider at least one year of service in the future. Photo: Oliver Turp/Eesti Kaitsevägi
  • The extension of service time is not related to training.
  • After completion of training the conscripts would man the weapon systems.
  • Conscripts in combat readiness service would be paid at least the minimum salary.

Defense Forces Commander, Lieutenant General Martin Herem, would extend the duration of compulsory military service from the current 8–11 months to 12–18 months in order to keep the new weapon systems arriving in Estonia in combat readiness.

Herem told Postimees that in the current security environment, it is reasonable to keep new capabilities in permanent combat readiness, in the same way that the Scouts Battalion, Air Force or Special Operations Command are in constant readiness today.

In the years 2023–2025, several new weapon systems will arrive in Estonia, which will raise the capabilities of the defense forces to a new level. An agreement has been concluded for the purchase of anti-ship missiles with a range of 290 kilometers, and Estonia is in the process of concluding an agreement for the acquisition of HIMARS multiple rocket launchers. The government has decided to acquire medium-range air defense by 2025 in cooperation with Latvia, and Estonia is also enhancing its short-range air defense in cooperation with Poland. During the next year, Estonia will probably also sign a contract for the purchase of long-range loitering air attack munitions.

“I emphasize that the news which began spreading on Tuesday regarding my proposal to extend the period of military service to 12 and sometimes even 18 months is not related to training; this is not the issue at all. We can teach the conscripts and personnel to handle even the most complex systems within the currently allotted time. But in today's security environment, these systems must be ready for combat," said Herem.

One way to keep new capabilities ready would be to recruit more people.

“We have done very well in recent years, the Military Academy has seen record classes with 90 people for the last three years in a row; this will definitely bring us many more second lieutenants. The number of people who have completed military service is increasing every year, and all this expands our recruitment potential. But another option is the compulsory military service, which would bring a permanent solution to the personnel issue,” said the commander of the Defense Forces.

Training would be followed by combat readiness service

He noted that since the conscripts are taught to use the new systems anyway, it would be wise to extend their service time. “After six to eight months of training, they would serve another six months and be on combat duty. At the same time, the next conscripts are being trained, and when they have completed the training, some go home and the others continue to serve in the combat readiness. In this case, they would serve like the soldiers of the Scouts Battalion, whose salary would no longer consist of a military service allowance, but something more. Conscripts on combat duty could receive at least the minimum wage, which is 600 euros per month today,” said Herem.

The commander of the Defense Forces stated that the idea of ​​extending military service has not been discussed in the government, the Ministry of Defense, or the General Staff.

“This option has started to spread very quickly among the public. This will probably be discussed a lot in the coming days, and politicians will probably discuss it as well,” Herem said.

According to him, the personnel issue should be resolved within the framework of introducing the new weapon systems. “We do not even have the infrastructure for these things today. But by 2025, all new systems should be in Estonia, and this means that in parallel with these processes, we also have to think about how we man these systems,” said Herem.

Two years of compulsory service?

The former commander of the Defense Forces, member of the national defense committee of the Riigikogu, retired general Ants Laaneots supports the extension of the duration of military service and even more than Herem foresees.

“Those younger soldiers who do not become sergeants could serve for a year, and non-commissioned officers could have a service period of one and a half or even two years; this should be discussed. This is necessary to prepare our defense forces for a crisis should it come to our backyard. We have to prepare so that our defense forces would consist of professionals rather than just people sitting by the fire,” Laaneots said.

He admitted that Estonia's human resources are very limited and must be used wisely. “Our reserve is 1.3 million people, and how much can you beg from it?” he asked rhetorically. According to the retired general, the war in Ukraine shows that against a criminal state like Russia, only the latest weaponry will help, and it must also be used well.

“Modern weaponry is incomparably superior compared to the degenerate stuff of the Soviet era. It is only with technology that small countries can overcome the capabilities of large countries if these attack someone,” stated Laaneots.

According to Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur, extending the duration of compulsory military service has not come up for discussion at the official level, but if the commander of the Defense Forces considers it necessary, then of course it must be discussed.

“It is logical that new weapon systems mean new capability requirements regarding the personnel,” said the minister.

Pevkur noted that if Herem considers it necessary to officially come out with the issue of extending military service, he should submit specific proposals to the Ministry of Defense through the General Staff of the Defense Forces.

“If the Ministry of Defense receives such proposal, we will of course analyze it and decide whether or not to take the matter to the government,” added Pevkur.

Compulsory military service in Estonia

Compulsory military service in the Estonian Defense Forces currently lasts eight or eleven months, dependent on the purpose of training.

Service lasts 11 months is the conscript serves in the Navy, receives training as a non-commissioned officer, military police or as communications or information technology specialist, obtains motor vehicle driving skills during service or performs the duties of a motor vehicle operator.

The draft to 11-month service takes place generally in January or July.

Eight-month service is used to train private solders of a unit and it begins generally in October.

Conscripts trained in 11- and 8-month service will form a complete unit at the end of the service.

Compulsory service took longer in the 1990s. For example, the service period of Border Guard conscripts drafted immediately after the restoration of Estonia’s independence in 1991 lasted 15 months; it was later reduced to 12 months.

Should compulsory military service extended from eight to twelve months?

The camera of Postimees caught various young men: some had already completed their service, others had not; there were also some exempted for health grounds. Among other opinions, some said that serving in the army was quite useful.

Imre: I would not like that extension of service; I have served in the army and eleven months was quite OK.

Frederik: My friends who have been to the army say that they would not want to serve longer. They were already whining; no one would want to serve any longer. I see no reason to extend the service time.

Karl: I think that the army is quite useful. Eleven months is also OK. I have passed my service and I learned everything necessary during that time.

Karl: I served eleven months and that was enough for me.

Mihkel: I have not served myself but as far as my acquaintances have told me, the present eight or eleven months are mostly about pushing a mop around. There must be some training as well but they say that there is a lot of cleaning details. I do not think that one could learn something extra during a longer service. Unless they amend the training process.

Rasmus: I have heard from a number of people that the compulsory service is a waste of time. Now they want to extend the service period maybe due to the international situation. I hope that nothing will happen and there would not be a longer service time.

Roland: I think that rather not. If you are learning, you’ll need to apply for academic leave – a service time of 18 months would make it much more complicated to coordinate everything and to stay away from school for a year and a half.

Roman: I have not been in the army and I would not be admitted anyway; I have serious back problems. But many young people think that this is a big waste of time.