WASHINGTON — In recent years, the Baltic nation of Latvia has gone on a modernization spending spree, putting down cash for new Black Hawk helicopters, self-propelled howitzers, reconnaissance vehicles and anti-tank weapons.
But there’s another platform competition on the horizon, with officials in Riga having relaunched a stalled contest for tactical wheeled vehicles.
In 2018, Latvia’s Ministry of Defence awarded to Finland’s Sisu Auto a €181 million (U.S. $197 million) deal for four-wheel drive armored vehicles. But the contract was overturned in early 2019 by a government watchdog after two bidders — AM General from the United States, and South Africa’s Paramount Group — filed complaints over the process. Turkish firm Otokar had also bid on the program at the time.
The recompete has seen offers from more than 10 companies for what will be a government-to-government agreement for a final contract. The price for the new contract will depend on the eventual winner and is not locked in at the Sisu contract level.
Speaking to Defense News in September, Janis Garisons, state secretary for the MoD, said it’s unlikely the government will reach a decision on the winner of the competition in the short term.
“What we have to do, we will test the vehicles, because we want to ensure we are looking at vehicles fit for our terrain, that can drive into our forests and we are not [getting] stuck on the roads,” said Garisons, who is the No. 2 official at the ministry. “We will look also at the industrial part because we very much interested to have [the] ability to maintain those vehicles.”
The last point is key, as Latvia is concerned about the ability to maintain its new purchases, something the country has struggled with, according to Garisons. “We don’t want to be in that situation anymore.”
The country is also focused on building up its domestic industrial base so that much of the maintenance on its new equipment can be done in-country, in case of conflict.
Along those lines, the competition for a four-wheel drive vehicle is likely be the last big platform purchase for a while, as the ministry is turning its attention toward procurement efforts to benefit training and sustainment.
“Now we face trying to implement everything and put [them] into service. This takes time, and of course all logistical tails, which goes with that,” he said. “Therefore, we now have to concentrate more on — it’s not very fancy things, but basically the training is going on already on all those capabilities that [have been bought], but now we have to ensure all the logistical issues are solved and maintained and sustainment is ensured.”
Regarding research and development, Latvia is working on a joint effort with Estonia to produce unmanned ground vehicles.
“That is something for the future capabilities. The goal is to understand our limits and how to engage our companies, also, coming up with solutions for autonomous systems,” Garisons said. “Because I think the biggest issue right now is how to ensure that those unmanned vehicles can operate autonomously and not need the soldier operating, as that doesn’t add much value.”
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.