WASHINGTON — Estonian and German forces will train to defend critical infrastructure near the capital of Tallinn next month, a scenario in line with NATO’s new concept of strengthened forward defense, according to officials from both countries.
The drill, dubbed “Baltic Tiger,” will see German Air Force troops of the “Friesland” regiment exercising with Estonian forces at Ämari air base, located some 25 miles southeast from Tallinn, a Luftwaffe spokesman said. According to its website, the formation specializes in defending airfields under combat conditions.
It’s a the first time the Luftwaffe is sending such forces for an exercise out of the country, the spokesman said. At the same time, German navy expeditionary infantry forces will train for securing Miinisadam naval base, the military port on the Tallinn Bay. Around 150 German personnel will be involved in the exercise scheduled to run throughout October.
Estonian officials were tight-lipped about details.
“Objectives of the drill are related to deepen the relations between participants and give an understanding of tactics, techniques and procedures used for operations in specific areas and how this is related to overall effort of force, because Ämari and Miinisadam are real locations,” a military spokesperson said. “Estonia is gladly using that opportunity to look into valid plans and how to make them more responsive to emerging threats.”
Defending the Baltic nations from Russian attack is a key consideration in NATO’s operational plans. Details are formalized in the alliance’s classified “Concept for the Deterrence and Defence of the Euro-Atlantic Area.”
At the NATO summit in Madrid in June, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas requested greater focus on denying Russian forces entry into her country in the first place, rather than expecting Estonians to weather an initial ground thrust toward Tallinn while awaiting alliance help under the so-called “tripwire” posture.
“If you compare the size of Ukraine and the Baltic countries, then it would mean a complete destruction of our countries, of our culture,” she said, Bloomberg reported at the time. “Those of you who have been to Tallinn and know our Old Town and the centuries of history and culture that is here, that would all be wiped off from the map, including our people, our nation.”
Russia has previously subjected Estonia to hybrid and irregular warfare tactics, including cyber attacks. Mixed with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s openly colonial aspirations, the Baltic nations feel particularly vulnerable following Moscow’s full-scale assault on Ukraine that began in in February.
“We all know that irregular warfare activities have been part of the Russian playbook forever,” Kristjan Prikk, Estonia’s ambassador in Washington, said at Defense News’ annual conference this month.
He said Estonians have historically internalized irregular and guerrilla tactics in the expectation of having to defend their small country from an invasion.
“We have a concept of, ‘Every quill counts,’” Prikk said, referring to the natural defenses of hedgehogs and porcupines. “And every tree can shoot.”
Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.