WASHINGTON — British and Estonian officials have inked a road map for beefing up their military ties that will boost the remaining U.K. contingent in the Baltic nation with short-range air defense weapons and multiple-launch rocket systems, the two governments announced Tuesday.
The agreement, signed in London by British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and his Estonian counterpart, Hanno Pevkur, aims to implement NATO plans approved in Madrid, Spain, over the summer for hardening the alliance’s eastern front.
Also part of the deal are pledges by Britain to rotate “additional capabilities and enablers,” including attack and cargo helicopters, into Estonia throughout 2023, according to a joint statement.
“In January, Chinook helicopters will arrive in Estonia, in March Apache helicopters, in April Typhoon fighters, and in May an additional battlegroup will be deployed to Estonia for the large-scale exercise Spring Storm,” Pevkur said in a statement on the deal from the Estonian Defence Ministry. “The UK will maintain the multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), brought to Estonia in summer 2022 to reinforce the allied battlegroup, and the short range air defense systems Stormer.”
Britain is the so-called framework, or lead, nation for Estonia under NATO’s enhanced forward presence scheme, with a battle group of roughly 900 soldiers in the country at all times in six-month rotations. Danish and French forces are also part of the allied force structure alongside host-nation troops.
The U.K. sent a second battle group to the Baltic nation in February as war was on the horizon in Ukraine. Russia invaded its neighbor on Feb. 24. That second battle group, described as a temporary deployment by British defense officials, is set to return home in December.
According to a report in The Times in late September, which described initial planning in London to reduce Britain’s personnel footprint in Estonia, the government in Tallinn had hoped to permanently keep the equivalent of two battle groups in the country.
The combination of removing one battle group and beefing up the other with division-level weaponry would serve to “enhance the effectiveness” of remaining British troops, according to the joint statement.
“The UK’s commitment to Estonia and European defense and security is unwavering,” Wallace said in the statement. “The deployment of assets such as Apache and Chinook helicopters to exercise in Estonia is a clear example of the strength of our relationship, and the importance we place on our ability to effectively operate side by side.”
Under the new bilateral road map, Estonia will build additional housing infrastructure for foreign troops at Tapa Army Base by May 2023 and complete construction next year of a new hub for managing the logistics of receiving allied forces.
The country also will work during 2023 to create and certify a division headquarters capable of commanding all allied forces in Estonia, as agreed at the Madrid summit.
The NATO gathering in June resulted in a flurry of activities across Eastern Europe that are collectively meant to shift the continent’s posture toward what NATO officials call “forward defense.” The concept entails quashing a hypothetical Russian invasion of a NATO member at the border, versus accepting Moscow’s troops invading for a few days before allied reinforcements arrive to push them out.
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.