Fr, 2.12.2022

Strength of territorial defense units will be doubled

Andres Einmann
, Eesti uudiste päevatoimetaja
Strength of territorial defense units will be doubled
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According to the head of the Defense Forces, Lieutenant General Martin Herem, reservists living in Tallinn have a greater chance of being assigned to a unit further away from their home.
According to the head of the Defense Forces, Lieutenant General Martin Herem, reservists living in Tallinn have a greater chance of being assigned to a unit further away from their home. Photo: Mihkel Maripuu
  • Reservists can choose their location of service until the end of November.
  • First exercises for the new units will be held next August and September.
  • The army and the Defense League will maintain the strength of the territorial units at 20,000.

Commander of the Defense League, Brigadier General Riho Ühtegi, yesterday quoted the legendary general of the War of Independence, Aleksander Tõnisson: “Every Red must meet the bullet at every corner, every tree, every bush.” It was meant to explain the plan to strengthen the territorial units of Estonia’s territorial defense.

The Defense Forces plans to double the personnel of the territorial defense units in the near future. Until now, the territorial defense units have been prepared on the basis of Defense League volunteers, but in the future, the army will assign reservists to these units as well. The goal is to boost the personnel of the territorial defense units to 20,000 people.

According to the Commander of the Defense Forces, Lieutenant General Martin Herem, those reservists who have completed military service and meet the health requirements, but who do not yet have a wartime position, will be assigned to the territorial units.

The faster ones can choose where to serve

The army grants the faster reservists an opportunity to choose a more convenient service location, but for this they have to register on the website of military service. This concerns primarily those reservists who have completed military service after 1996 and who are not, as far as they know, assigned to a wartime position.

“Those who belong to this category and wish to participate in national defense as a reservist should show their initiative in the online environment www.kaitsevaeteenistus.ee. By logging in there, they should reach the corresponding form quite easily and fill it in. For our part, we are making sure that these people can contribute to national defense in the region where they wish to serve,” said the defense forces commander.

Volunteers can choose their place of service until November 30, after which the Defense Forces will start assigning reservists to territorial units according to their own interests, using the existing information systems.

“At the end of the year, all reservists should be assigned to territorial defense units, and at the beginning of next year at the latest, we will start sending out notices about assignment to units,” said Herem.

According to Herem, the army has determined the need for the personnel of territorial units as to defense regions and counties. “Volunteers are very likely to join the units they want to go to. Of course, it must be taken into account that the number of reservists in Tallinn is much larger than elsewhere. Therefore, reservists living in Tallinn have a greater chance of being assigned to a territorial unit in Võru, Põlva or somewhere else far from Tallinn. But this is how we can meet our needs," Herem said.

According to plans, the first training of reinforced territorial defense units will begin in August-September next year. The initial training for section and platoon commanders lasts ten days, and five days for rank-and-file personnel.

“The field training takes place as much as possible in the area where they would start operating in case of war. Initially, the territorial defense units will be trained as light infantry,” Herem added.

Riho Ühtegi, the commander of the Defense League, added that the training of the units begins with the basics. “First, we will train them as light infantry platoons, and we will gradually expand the training over the following years and provide specialized training. This is not a one-year project, we plan to keep the strength of territorial defense at 20,000 in the coming years,” he said.

Herem added that the exercises of the territorial units, which will take place at the end of the summer and fall of next year, will be conducted in cooperation with the Defense Forces and the Defense League.

"The Defense League organizes these exercises, but additional support from the Defense Forces is needed, so that everything from instructors and transport to depots management and medical services would be adequate. This means that next year in August and September, some army units will essentially stop their core activities and focus on the development of territorial defense for ten days,” Herem said.

Ühtegi added that the additional reserve units of territorial defense will be formed on the basis of existing territorial units, which until now relied on the Defense League. “Let's be honest, the Defense League units are not enough. We need a larger number of territorial units to cover the entire area of Estonia,” Uhtegi said.

He noted that the exercise to be held in August-September next year is in many respects a refresher exercise so that the reservists can recall what they have learned during their military service. “Secondly, it is also a place to recognize their future home unit and receive their tasks during the exercise,” said the Defense League commander.

Territorial defense has proven itself in the war in Ukraine

According to Ühtegi, the effectiveness of territorial defense has been demonstrated by the ongoing war in Ukraine and earlier also by the experience of Finland and other countries, where such a defense model has been successfully used against large armies.

"Motivated territorial defense is a very effective weapon. Until today, it has operated on the basis of the Defense League, and its volunteer members have very high morale and the will to defend. Naturally, in the future, we will not stop any reservist included in territorial defense from joining the local unit of the Defense League. This is welcome in every way, this way he can participate in more events,” said Uhtegi.

The Defense Forces have determined how the 20,000 territorial defense personnel will be distributed among Estonia’s counties, but this is a state secret and will not be made public. “The border areas understandably need a little more people. Fewer men are needed in places where there are already many units of the Defense League, for example in Tallinn, Harju County and also in Tartu. Hiiumaa Island probably needs more people, while Saaremaa Island can probably manage with its own personnel,” said Uhtegi.

According to the commander of the Defense League, the peripheral areas must probably be supplemented with people from neighboring counties. "For example, East Viru County needs to receive more reservists from West Viru or even Harju counties,” he said.

Territorial units will be subordinated to the army in wartime

Although the territorial defense units belong to the Defense League, as wartime units together with reservists they will be included in the regular army.

The moment the reservists come to receive refresher training, they belong to the Defense Forces. They do not have direct jurisdiction with the Defense League, but they are part of the wartime territorial defense.

“Today's unit commanders are Defense League members, but if we increase defense readiness, they will become wartime units of the army. The platoons which we shall come under the same defense regions where they will be commanded basically by today's Defense League officers. But as soon as the combat readiness is increased, they will become officers of the army," explained the commander of the Defense League, Riho Uhtegi.

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