Estonia Defence Forces

Estonian Defence Forces
Eesti Kaitsevägi

Estonian Defence Forces emblem and flag
Service branches Estonian Ground Force
Estonian Air Force
Estonian Naval Force
Estonian Defence League
Headquarters Tallinn
Commander-in-Chief Lieutenant General Riho Terras
Minister of Defence Margus Tsahkna
Chief of General Staff Colonel Martin Herem
Military age 18 - 28 years old
Conscription 8 or 11 months
Available for
military service
594,497, age 15–49
Reaching military
age annually
6 373 males,
6 072 females
Active personnel 17 500 (this includes the defence league) [1]
Reserve personnel 218 886 [2]
Deployed personnel 98
Budget $488 million (2016)[3] rank
Percent of GDP 2.07 % (2016)
Related articles
Ranks Military ranks of Estonia

The Estonian Defence Forces (Estonian: Eesti Kaitsevägi) is the name of the unified armed forces of the Republic of Estonia. The Estonian military is a defence force consisting of Land Forces, Navy, Air Force and a paramilitary organization Defence League. The national defence policy aims to guarantee the preservation of the independence and sovereignty of the state, the integrity of its land area, territorial waters and airspace and its constitutional order. Its main goals remain the development and maintenance of a credible capability to defend the nation's vital interests and development of the defence forces in a way that ensures their interoperability with the armed forces of NATO and European Union member states to participate in the full range of missions for these military alliances.[4]


After the German Revolution, between 11 and 14 November 1918, ending the German occupation in Estonia, the representatives of Germany formally handed over political power to the Government of Estonia. A few days later Estonia was invaded by the military forces of Bolshevist Russia, marking the beginning of the Estonian War of Independence. The small, poorly armed Estonian military, also known as the Peoples Force (in Estonian: Rahvavägi), was initially pushed back by the Red Army into the vicinity of the capital city of Estonia - Tallinn. A mere 34 kilometers separated Tallinn and the front line. Partly due to the timely arrival of a shipment of arms brought by a British naval squadron the Bolsheviks were stopped.

In January 1919, the Estonian armed forces launched a counteroffensive, the May Offensive, under Commander-in-Chief Johan Laidoner. The Ground Forces were supported by the Royal Navy as well as Finnish, Swedish and Danish volunteers. By the end of February 1919, the Red Army had been expelled from all of the territory of Estonia. On 2 February 1920, the Peace Treaty of Tartu was signed by the Republic of Estonia and the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. After winning the Estonian Liberation War against Soviet Russia and German Freikorps volunteers, Estonia maintained its independence for twenty-two years.

In August 1939, just prior to the start of World War II, Stalin and Hitler secretly decided the fate of the Republic of Estonia, in which the two leaders agreed to divide Eastern Europe into "spheres of special interest" as outlined by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in its Secret Additional Protocol.[5][6] According to this treaty Estonia was to be occupied by the Soviet Union. The Estonian government was forced to give their assent to an agreement which allowed the USSR to establish military bases and station 25,000 troops on Estonian soil for "mutual defence".[7] On 12 June 1940, the order for a total military blockade of Estonia was given to the Soviet Baltic Fleet.[8][9] Given the overwhelming Soviet force, in order to avoid bloodshed and a futile and hopeless war, on 17 June 1940 the Estonian government decided not to resist.[10] The military occupation of Estonia was complete by 21 June 1940.[11][12] The armed forces of Estonia were disarmed in July 1940 by the Red Army according to Soviet orders.[13] Only the Estonian Independent Signal Battalion stationed in Tallinn at Raua Street, in front of the Tallinn School No. 21 continued to resist. As the Red Army brought in additional reinforcements supported by armoured fighting vehicles, the battle lasted several hours until sundown. There was one dead, several wounded on the Estonian side and about 10 killed and more wounded on the Soviet side. Military resistance ended with negotiations and the Signal Battalion surrendered and was disarmed.[14] In the Second World War, many Estonians joined German Wehrmacht auxiliary units, as well as eventually contributing the volunteers and conscripts for the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian) which fought against the Red Army.

The Eesti Kaitsevägi was restored on 3 September 1991 by the Supreme Council of the Republic of Estonia. Since 1991, the armed forces of Estonia have re-opened and restored more than 30 old and new units and several army branches.


Its main goals remain the development and maintenance of a credible capability to defend the nation's vital interests and development of the EDF in a way that ensures their interoperability with the armed forces of NATO and EU member states and their capability to participate in the full range of Alliance missions.

In peacetime the main tasks of EDF are to monitor and maintain control over territorial borders and airspace, maintain combat readiness, train conscripts and develop reserve units, participate in NATO and UN-led international missions, and provide assistance to civilian authorities in case of national emergency.

In crises the main tasks of EDF are to increase the readiness levels of units as required, prepare for transition to wartime structure and begin mobilization as ordered, integrate units from other ministries, and prepare for assistance from and reception of friendly forces.

In wartime the main tasks of EDF are to defend the territorial integrity of the state, to facilitate the arrival and deployment of forces from other countries and co-operate with them, to maintain control over national airspace and facilitate the air defence of strategic assets in co-operation with forces from other countries.


In peacetime the Estonian Defence Forces and the national defence organisations, including the National Guard, are led by the commander of the defence forces. In wartime all these components are commanded by the commander-in-chief of the defence forces. The chief of the defence forces and the commander-in-chief of the defence forces are appointed and released from office by the Riigikogu on the proposal of the President of the Republic of Estonia. Starting from 5 December 2011 the Chief of the Defence is Lieutenant-General Riho Terras.

The Kaitseväe Peastaap is the headquarters of the military of Estonia and the working body of the Kaitseväe Juhataja of the defence forces. The General Staff is a joint staff engaged with operational leadership, training and development of the defence forces. Operational leadership is implemented by the Operational Staff, which plans and controls operations and ensures defence readiness and mobilisation. The departments for training and development are responsible for long-term and mid-term planning, resource planning, organisation and control of the planning of training and implementation of national defence activities. The general staff of the defence forces is headed by the Chief of the Headquarters of the Estonian Defence Forces.

Leadership of the national defence

The national defence of Estonia is conducted on the principles of civilian control inherently bound with the democratic organisation of the state. Democratically elected and appointed executive institutions make decisions on the use of the defence forces and determine the respective objectives, allocate the necessary resources and monitor the attainment of the objectives. The implementation of the principles of civilian control is guaranteed by defence-related rights, obligations and responsibilities legislatively laid upon the parliament, the president of the republic and the government of the republic. The highest leader of the national defence is the president of the republic advised in national defence matters by the National Defence Council composed of the chairman of the Parliament, the prime minister, the chief of the defence forces (the commander-in-chief of the defence forces in wartime), the defence minister, the Minister of Internal Affairs, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Chairman of the Parliamentary National Defence Committee. Executive power in the leadership of the national defence is executed by the Government of the Republic.


Estonian defence areas.

The Defence Forces consist of regular military units totaling 6,500 officers and men, and a voluntary corps, the Defence League with about 12,600 soldiers. The planned size of the operational (wartime) structure at the moment is 30,000 personnel. The Defence Forces are a reserve force, and as such, "all physically and mentally healthy male citizens" must undergo compulsory military service for the duration of either 8 or 11 months, during which time the conscripts are taught the basic skills needed to be mobilized into active duty. The Defence Forces are stationed within four defence districts with headquarters in Tallinn, Tapa, Luunja, Pärnu.

The Estonian Army is structured according to the principle of a reserve force which means that the main part of the defence forces of the state are units in the reserve. For a state with few human and economic resources, a reserve force based on the will of defence of the citizens is the most viable form of national defence.

In peacetime the reservists conduct periodic training, and the state purchases of equipment and weapons. In wartime the reservists are mobilized into military units. The reserve units are formed on the territorial principle, i.e. conscripts from one area are called up at one time to one unit and after service they are sent to the reserve as one unit. The Estonian Army is always in constant defence readiness in co-operation with the other services.

Land Forces

Main article: Estonian Land Forces
Estonian soldiers during Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2010 training exercise.

The Estonian Land Forces is the main arm of the defence forces. The average size of the military formation in peacetime is about 5,500 of whom about 2,700 are conscripts. The Army component of the operational structure consists of an infantry brigade and 4 Regional Commands. Infantry brigade acts as a training and support frame for deployable units. The Land Force development priorities are the capability to participate in missions outside the national territory and the capability to perform operations to protect the territory of Estonia, also in co-operation with the Allies.

Naval Force

Main article: Estonian Navy

The Merevägi is responsible for all naval operations and protecting of the territorial waters of Estonia. The main functions of the naval force are the preparation and organisation of the defence of the territorial waters and coastal line, ensuring the maritime security, communications and sea traffic in the territorial waters and co-operation with NATO and the navies of other friendly countries around. In case of a crisis situation the Merevägi must be ready to defend sea approaches, harbour areas, sea lines of communication and to co-operate with the coalition units. The Merevägi includes units of patrol ships, minesweepers, a frigate and coast guard units, necessary to ensure the security of maritime communications lines and to establish and clear mine barriers. The majority of the naval forces are situated at the Miinisadam naval base. The current structure operates the Mineships Division which also includes a divers group. In addition there are the Naval Academy, Naval Base at Miinisadam and the Naval Headquarters which are situated in Tallinn.[15] Since 1995 numerous mine clearance operations have been carried out in Estonian waters in close co-operation with other navies of the Baltic Sea region in order to find and dispose ordnance and contribute to safe seagoing. In 2007 the Merevägi mineships fleet was modernized and equipped with the Sandown class minehunters. In 2010, according to the long-term defence development plan, it was announced that the Merevägi will receive some new capabilities. Of those new warfare capabilities the procurement of multirole fast patrol boats will be the priority. The operational need for such vessels is likely to ensure defence of territorial waters and to improve maritime surveillance.[16] In addition to the current capabilities the command and control and shore-to-vessel communications will also be further improved.[17]

Air Force

Main article: Estonian Air Force
In 2012 A-10 ground attack aircraft from Michigan Air National Guard station in Ämari Air Base.

The Estonian Air Force is the main arm of the Estonian aviation forces. The roots of the current organization go back to 1918 when August Roos organized the first Estonian aviation unit. The Independence War gave great impulses to the development of the Estonian Air Force which had by middle of 1930s more than 130 modern aircraft. The organization consisted then the Naval Aviation Group, Flight School, Air Base, Air Defence Artillery Group. Estonian engineers designed and constructed the fighter aircraft, which were with outstanding performance. Estonian Air Force was re-established in 1991 with goals to gain the control over Estonian airspace and air defence of strategic objects.[18]

Today the Air force does not have an aviation wing of its own and consist of three units the Air Force Staff, the Air Force Base and the Air Surveillance Wing. The Air Force has four main goals to accomplish for medium term: to establish an air surveillance capability, and based on that, to begin the development of a national air defence system. To establish an air defence command and control capability. To build up Ämari Air Base as a prospective main NATO interoperable airfield and part of host nation support in Estonia. To establish an Air Force communication and information system, which is interoperable with relevant NATO Integrated Extended Air Defence System NATIENADS. To develop a data exchange systems in the Air Force. To prepare a rotary wing component of the Air Force.

The Estonian air force was slow to reform because of the severely damaged and destroyed infrastructure left by the Soviet Air Force and air defence units. The Estonian Air Force was restored on April 13, 1994. From 1993 to 1995, Estonia received in total two Let L-410UVP transport aircraft,three Mil Mi-2, and four Mil Mi-8 helicopters. The service branch received old Soviet radars and AAA equipment. The majority of Estonian Air Force units are stationed at one military airfield, Ämari Air Base, where renovation was completed in 2012.[19] The airfield and garrison at Ämari is focused on preparing and assisting cooperation with NATO and the air forces of partner nations and allow it to supply the standardized airfield and aircraft services necessary for host nation support.[20] In 2014 Estonia has shown interest in purchasing Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighters from Sweden which would lead the creation of aviation wing of the service branch which currently does not exist.[21]

Defence League

The Defence League is a voluntary military national defence organisation, which acts in the area of government of the Ministry of Defence. The Defence League possesses arms and engages in military exercises. The main goal of the Defence League is, on the basis of the citizens’ free will and initiative, to enhance the readiness of the nation to defend its independence and its constitutional order, including in the event of military threat.

The Defence League plays an important role in supporting the civil structures. Its members aid in putting out wildfires, volunteer as assistant police members, and ensure safety at various events. Units, consisting of voluntary members of the Defence League, also participate in international peace support operations such as in the Balkan states. The Defence League and its affiliated organizations have positive relations with partner organizations in the Nordic countries, the United States and the United Kingdom.

The organisation is divided into 15 Defence League regional units whose areas of responsibility mostly coincide with the borders of Estonia’s counties. Today, the Defence League has over 11,000 members. The affiliated organisations of the Defence League combine more than 20,000 volunteers, in all, and include the Estonian Defence League’s women’s corps Naiskodukaitse, the Estonian Defence League’s boys’ corps Noored Kotkad, and the Estonian Defence League’s girls’ corps Kodutütred.


International cooperation

An Estonian XA-180 in Afghanistan.
Estonian soldiers in Iraq.

Since 2004 Estonia has been a full member of the NATO; it had been one of its foremost priorities since the restoration of independence. The United States is among the countries with which Estonia has very close cooperation in the defence and security fields. Currently Estonia takes seriously participation in the NATO Response Force and contributes in NTM-I (NATO Training Mission - Iraq). Until 2009, Estonia had 40 soldiers fighting alongside American Forces in the Iraq War and 150 soldiers, or about 3% of its total active military force, fighting alongside British Forces during the War in Afghanistan. Estonian forces have since been withdrawn from Iraq. In both cases, the units were regularly rotated. Estonia also provides peacekeepers for international missions in both Bosnia and Kosovo within the framework of the KFOR, and also contributes to EU battlegroups and NATO Response Force rotations and the EU’s anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. The Estonian military employs STANAG (NATO interoperable) weapons and equipment acquired from Finland, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Great Britain, the United States and Israel.

Place Mission Organization Units and number of personnel[22]
Lebanon Lebanon UNIFIL United Nations about 40
Kosovo Kosovo KFOR NATO 50 / Estonian Kosovo Contingent
Middle East UNTSO United Nations 5 officers as military observers
Mali Mali EUTM Mali, MINUSMA European Union 3 staff officers
Country Former mission Organization Units and number of personnel Period[23][24]
Croatia Croatia UNPROFOR United Nations Infantry platoons 1995
Lebanon Lebanon UNIFIL United Nations 135 1996-1997
Bosnia and Herzegovina Bosnia IFOR, SFOR, EUFOR Althea NATO, United Nations 40 1996-2011
Afghanistan Afghanistan ISAF NATO 150 / Estonian Afghanistan Contingent 2003-2014
Republic of Macedonia Macedonia EUFOR Concordia European Union 1 2003
Iraq Iraq MNFI NATO 50 / Estonian Iraqi Contingent 2003-2009
Somalia Somalia EU-NAVFOR-ATALANTA European Union 10 2010-2013
Mediterranean Sea OAE NATO 10 2013
Central African Republic Central African Republic EUFOR RCA European Union 50 2014

Electronic warfare

The Military of Estonia is introducing a new 21st century based cyber warfare and defence formation in order to protect the vital infrastructure and e-infrastructure of Estonia. Currently the leading organization in the Estonian cyber defence is the CERT (the Computer Emergency Response Team of Estonia), established in 2006, as an organisation responsible for the management of security incidents in .ee computer networks. Its task is to assist Estonian internet users in the implementation of preventive measures in order to reduce possible damage from security incidents and to help them in responding to security threats. The unit deals with security incidents that occur in Estonian networks, are started there, or have been notified of by citizens or institutions either in Estonia or abroad.[25] On 25 June 2007, Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves met with the president of United States, George W. Bush.[26] Among the topics discussed were the attacks on Estonian e-infrastructure.[27] The attacks triggered a number of military organisations around the world to reconsider the importance of network security to modern military doctrine. On 14 June 2007, defence ministers of NATO members held a meeting in Brussels, issuing a joint communiqué promising immediate action. First public results are estimated to arrive by autumn 2007.[28] In the aftermath of the Cyberattacks on Estonia 2007, plans to combine network defence with Estonian military doctrine, and related NATO plans to create a Cybernetic Defence Centre in Estonia, have been nicknamed the "Tiger's Defence" (Estonian: Tiigrikaitse), in reference to Tiigrihüpe.[29]

See also

Notes and references

  3. Estonian military budget on 2016
  4. Estonian National Defence Policy
  5. The World Book Encyclopedia ISBN 0-7166-0103-6
  6. O'Connor, Kevin. "The History of the Baltic States". ISBN 0-313-32355-0
  7. Smith, David J. "The Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania", Page 24, ISBN 0-415-28580-1
  8. (Finnish) Pavel Petrov at Finnish Defence Forces home page
  9. (Russian) Documents published from the State Archive of the Russian Navy Archived February 5, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  10. Smith, Page 19.
  11. Smith, Page 27.
  12. Five Years of Dates, Time magazine, 24 June 1940
  13. (Estonian) History of the Estonian Defence Forces
  14. (Estonian) 51 years from the Raua Street Battle at Estonian Defence Forces web site
  15. Merevägi
  16. The Navy about to receive fast patrol boats in the worth of 100 million krones
  17. The Long-Term Defence Development Plan: Naval modernization
  18. "Military of Estonia: History of the Air Force". Estonian Defence Forces. 9 May 2013. Retrieved 13 March 2014.
  19. "Military of Estonia: Ämari Air Base". Estonian Defence Forces. 9 May 2013. Retrieved 13 March 2014.
  20. "President Ilves: Ämari Air Base shows solidarity of NATO allies". Estonia Office of the President. 15 September 2010. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  21. "Estonia is interested in buying Saab fighter jets". Delfi. 13 March 2014. Retrieved 13 March 2014.
  22. "Operatsioonid" (in Estonian). Estonian Defence Forces. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  23. "Operatsioonid alates 1995" (in Estonian). Estonian Defence Forces. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  24. "Eesti osalus operatsioonides - Lõpetatud operatsioonid" (in Estonian). Estonian Defence Forces. Archived from the original on 2011-07-20. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  25. About CERT Estonia
  26. President Bush to welcome President Toomas Ilves of Estonia, White House press release, 4 May 2007
  27. Bush, Ilves eye tougher tack on cybercrime, Yahoo/Agence France-Presse (AFP), 25 June 2007
  28. (Estonian) NATO andis rohelise tule Eesti küberkaitse kavale, Eesti Päevaleht, 15 June 2007
  29. (Estonian) President Ilves kohtus Ameerika Ühendriikide riigipeaga, Office of the President of Estonia, 25 June 2007 Archived April 2, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.

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