HELSINKI — The Baltic states are discussing whether joint military procurement will produce gains in capability and cost savings. in talks to examine the potential gains in capability building and cost savings that could accrue from linking future big ticket military equipment purchases.

The cross-border talks take place as all three NATO-aligned Baltic countries increase defense spending in the face of growing uncertainty over Russia’s intentions in the region. The end-goal is to deepen develop deeper joint military equipment acquisition among between the Baltic countries and potentially link extended to include the option of linking with in to future parallel weapon projects being run by the Nordic defense cooperation partnership. 

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania can now access activities under the Military Cooperation Areas of NORDEFCO, the now more inclusive Nordic defense collaboration vehicle. arrangement now allows all activities under the scope of the Nordic Defense Cooperation vehicle’s (NORDEFCO's Military Cooperation Areas (COPA) to be accessed for participation by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Enhanced cooperation is planned within armaments, training and exercises, and capacity-building.

Strengthening national security is and collective defense capacities building are very much on the minds of Baltic governments against the backdrop of a more unpredictable Kremlin and Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine. 

Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko added to the unease on Aug. 3, suggesting that Russia's long-term objective under Vladimir Putin is the takeover of the "whole of Europe," potentially starting with the Baltic states and Finland.

The cross-border joint acquisition talks, and potential bilateral agreements, are also occurring as taking place against the backdrop of increased defense spending plans by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania plan to increase defense spending and as well as plans by the US intends to locate heavy equipment at secured depots in all three Baltic countries during the third quarter of 2015. 

The joint acquisition of air-defense systems has emerged as a key area in the collective armaments procurement discussions. The possibility of a common purchase was raised during talks between Latvian and Lithuanian Presidents Raimonds Vejonis and Dalia Grybauskaite in Vilnius in mid-July.

"Issues related to strengthening military cooperation were covered, and talks included the joint acquisition of weaponry, especially relating to air defense," Vejonis said at a post-talks press conference. Joint purchases, he said, also offered the advantage of reducing overall costs on future equipment buys.

The examination process will include a review of Nordic investment plans for short- and medium-range air defenses. Sweden is considering the establishment of a medium-range air defense system on Gotland Island that would cover the Baltic Sea area.

In May, the three Baltic states agreed to open a dialogue with the US and Poland on the development of a joint midrange air defense system to reinforce capability gaps. in their critical defense capabilities. A draft plan, which is expected to include a proposal for the common purchase of missiles, is due by the end of 2015.

"We face an increased security threat, and this requires us to strengthen defense cooperation. Regional defense collaboration among the Baltic states is more critical now than ever. Our assurance in terms of our security is our solidarity," said Juozas Olekas, Lithuania's defense minister.

Baltic military command organizations are also discussing increased cooperation in other core areas such as larger-scale cross-border exercises, Olekas said.

Bolstering security and defense to optimum levels in the Baltic Sea region can best be served not only by NATO but in collaboration with Nordic neighbors, ing Nordic countries and their military cooperation vehicle NORDEFCO, said Olekas said. 

Aside from a medium-range air defense system, other likely candidates for joint acquisition initiatives include armored fighting vehicles, mechanized equipment, anti-tank missiles and advanced warning systems.

The prospect of a collective agreement to acquire fighter aircraft has also been tentatively discussed, although such a shared purchase could be economically unfeasible beyond the economic affordability capacities, given tight national budgetary constraints.  

The formation of a joint Baltic Fighter Unit (NFU) has been raised at intervals since the Baltic states joined NATO in 2004. NATO currently provides a Baltic air-policing mission out of the Šiauliai Air Base fighter-station in Lithuania. 

The number of NATO aircraft attached to the Baltic Air Policing Unit (BAPU) was increased to 16 in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, but this number is being scaled back to eight8 "rotating" NATO jets from September. However, this is still more than the four4 NATO jets assigned to the BAPU before the crisis in Ukraine erupted.   

"Acquiring new fighters would be a huge financial commitment for the Baltic states. Sweden has indicated down the years that it is prepared to offer favorable terms on a buy or lease deal on the next generation Gripen. Even this could prove too costly for each Baltic state. Despite raised fears over Russian intent in the region, it is more likely that Baltic governments will continue to rely on NATO for primary air defense and policing functions," said Mikael Goss, a political analyst based in The Hague.

The potential for Nordic defense-industrial cooperation and joint Nordic-Baltic acquisition programs was advanced further in April when Nordic defense ministers issued an extended military cooperation declaration that advocated deeper collaboration with the Baltic states.

"We [Nordic governments] have also introduced a program to develop defense capacities, where in cooperation with the Baltic nations we can contribute to reforming the defense  sectors of our cooperating countries," the declaration stated.

The scope for defense strengthening through collective acquisitions forms part of Lithuania's updated Armed Forces Defense Modernization Plan. The new plan sets out the Lithuanian Armed Forces' equipment requirements going forward in addition to how the country's military organization should be enlarged and reinforced.

The updated defense modernization plan, which was requested of the armed forces by the State Defense Council in November, is intended to provide the government with a capabilities roadmap, enabling better resourcing of core programs as Lithuania moves to raise defense spending to the 2 percent of GDP level advocated by NATO. 

Lithuania already advanced with plans to modernize its short-range capability has contracted to acquire the GROM air-defense system in May under a $40 million enhancement program that will run to 2021. Initial deliveries are to commence during the fourth quarter of 2015. 

The planned US deployment of  heavy weaponry in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia can be expected to reduce the financial pressure on Baltic governments to invest in high-cost, modern firepower and other high-end Army equipment.

The deployment of heavy equipment, including battle tanks, Bradley armored fighting vehicles and self-propelled howitzers, is due to take place at secured depots across the Baltic region by the end of the third quarter.


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