April 01, 2013
In the 20 years since Estonia gained independence from the then-Soviet Union, the tiny Baltic nation has been slowly rebuilding its security infrastructure from the ashes left by over five decades of foreign occupation.
Nine years after joining NATO in March 2004—a move that was followed two months later by accession to the European Union—Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are reaping the economic and security benefits such membership affords. All three face continued tension with Russia, however, and are investing in new defense capabilities to maintain NATO and EU commitments.
For Estonia—a country with a population of less than 1.3 million and a gross domestic output of around $22 billion last year—reestablishing a security presence in the region has been slow. But collaborative developments with Scandinavian neighbors to the north, and partnerships with Baltic allies in the south, are helping Tallinn gradually build an infantry, acquire mine-countermeasure vessels and support NATO air policing missions with new long-range surveillance capabilities developed through a bilateral tender with a non-NATO ally, Finland.
“Estonia is very small and doing things alone is difficult,” says Ingvar Parnamae, the country's undersecretary of defense for investments. In March Estonia unveiled the first of two new long-range air defense radar posts as part of an effort to modernize air surveillance assets in support of NATO air policing missions. Previously, two radar stations monitored Estonia's airspace: A TPS-77 at Kallavere, in western Estonia; and an ASR-8 at the recently updated Amari air base near Tallinn.
Produced by ThalesRaytheonSystems (TRS), the two Ground Master 403 (GM 403) radars are part of a bulk order with Helsinki, which purchased 12 GM 403s under a 2009 agreement valued at $36 million, including options.
Situated on Muhu Island in the Baltic Sea off the country's northern coast, the first radar facility was completed in August last year. ThalesRaytheonSystems, a 50/50 joint venture owned by Raytheon and Thales, is expected to deliver the second GM 403 in November 2014, to be installed at Otepaa in southern Estonia.
“The joint purchase allowed Estonia to effectively buy two radar systems for the price of one,” Parnamae says.
Estonian air force commander Col. Jaak Tarien says the country's GM 403 systems will be connected to NATO's integrated air defense system for coverage in the western half of the country, and can be linked with other air defense radars deployed across Europe.