Joint military spending takes off

The Baltic Times
The Baltic Times Staff
Jul 25, 2007
GIVE IT A WHIRL: Latvia’s fleet of heavy Soviet-era Mi-17 choppers is in need of replacement (Photo courtesy Latvian Ministry of Defense)

RIGA/TALLINN – The three Baltic states are planning collective purchases of armored personnel carriers, helicopters and radar systems in the future, Latvian Defense Minister Atis Slakteris said July 24.

“At present there is a political commitment and objective to purchase APCs, radar and possibly also helicopters collectively. Some of these projects are at an advanced stage, but some of them are not,” the minister told Baltic News Service.

“It is cheaper to buy collectively. I will not go into detail, as it is classified information and companies are competing for the right to supply. As a NATO member we have to be able to monitor our air space,” the minister said.

An agreement was recently reached which will enable Latvian pilots to be trained flying the Estonian Air Force’s L-39 jets.

Slakteris described the overall defense cooperation among Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia as good, though so far the Baltic states have only purchased ammunition collectively, Slakteris admitted.

The Baltic states have several joint military projects, including the BALTNET airspace monitoring system, BALTRON minesweeper squadron, BALTCCIS command and control information system and BALTDEFCOL defense college.

Slakteris also estimated that the purchase of four light class helicopters for the Latvian Air Force by 2010 would cost at least 6.5 million lats (EUR 9.2 mln). The helicopters would mainly be used to perform rescue functions and train new pilots.

The purchase of light helicopters would be more effective and economical than the continued use of older heavy helicopters, the minister said. At present Latvian Air Force have four Mi-17 class helicopters and one Mi-2 class helicopter, all dating from the Soviet era.

However, even as Slakteris was talking up the benefits of pooled defense spending, things were looking more problematic north of the border in Estonia.

The Defense Ministry and the State Audit Office have found that defense forces are failing to keep proper track of the supplies in their depots because of high labor turnover and lack of unified software, the daily Eesti Paevaleht reported.

After examining the ministry’s report for 2006, the State Audit Office pointed out that the defense forces’ logistics center was unable to assess the size of stocks. “The state, lifespan and usability of the existing supplies are evaluated superficially,” the auditing report said.

Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo promised in his answer to the State Audit Office to introduce new software by the end of this year but admitted that the new program is not yet perfect. “The trouble lies in the requirement of keeping databases of armaments and depots secret,” he reportedly told the Audit Office.