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Renewed: 21.12.2013, 23:51

12 March 2013 23:46

Major General Riho Terras: Reforms will make our Defence Forces stronger

Major General Riho Terras: Reforms will make our Defence Forces stronger Major General Riho Terras: Reforms will make our Defence Forces stronger

Interview with Major General Riho Terras, Commander of Estonian Defence Forces

By Major Ivar Jõesaar

Published in Sõdur 1, 2013

The government approved the new National Defence Development Plan for 2013-2022 January 24, 2013.The new development plan enlarges the rapid response structure up to 21,000 individuals with supply and reaction time security as a priority.

The Land Forces will develop 2 manned, armed and supplied rapid reaction ready infantry brigades. Consequently the 1st Infantry Brigade will be supplied with combat vehicles, armoured transports and self-moving artillery. The new development plan promotes the entire Defence forces anti-tank abilities and armament, including third generation anti-tank rocket complexes.

The Defence League takes a central role in territorial defence and grow from its existing 23,000 members to 30,000 in 10 years. The new development plan allows the command structure to be more flexible, the plan integrates current Land Forces Headquarters with the Defence Forces Headquarters, but leaves Air Force and Navy as single service headquarters.

By the end of 2014 all conscripts will have current modern living conditions, new facilities are being created in Tapa, Jõhvi, Võru and Ämari. Centralized training area system with additional bordered exercise areas and a shooting range for the Defence League will be developed. The active service members will go up from todays 3,100 to 3,600 within 10 years and the austerity forced lowered salaries will be reinstated back to the original amounts.

Estonia has twice had to build up its Defence Force from zero. The first time we did it with experience from the WWI and the Independence War, the second time we basically were self-taught with an eye on joining NATO. After the new National Defence Development Plan, how do you see the development of the Estonian national defence?

The development of the Estonian Defence Forces has been stable and we have held on to those principles that were expressed 15-20 years ago, even though occasionally going outside the plan.

Regardless of the large push prior to joining NATO, to go to a more collective defence and a lesser independent defence, we have defended our plan and today have the same conscript based reserve armed forces as it was at the beginning of the 1990’s. We have proceeded with the principles of total defence and territorial defence and the new 10 year development plan will not alter these principles.

The main goal of this reform is to bring a balance between our ambitions and resources.

Here, I’d like to point out that much discussed NATO Article 5 which talks about the application of collective defence, at least as important is Article 3, which expresses exactly that every nation must be able to defend itself and only then will receive assistance from the Alliance. Based on this principle, the cooperation with NATO as well as the development of independent defence capabilities becomes all that more important. And this is stressed in the new Development Plan.

When risk analysis and goals were worded in the previous development plan, the whole world was on an economic up-swing. How realistic is that plan today, as per their deadlines or planned completions.

During the compilation period of the last ten years development plan the huge economic growth and overall euforia created a feeling that we could do much more for the good of our national defence development. It is also important to note, that when the previous development plan was prepared, we were missing the knowledge and skill to assess the costs of maintaining all the equipment we bought back then.

For example, how much does one motorized infantry battalion in the reserves cost in one year, even if we do not consider procurement costs and only personnel, reservist exercises and conscript training costs. Only when we add up all of these costs, that we need daily during peacetime as well as the real costs of the reserves, will we be able to estimate the total cost of maintaining the armed forces. 

We should also consider the compulsory obligations, and other agreements for very necessary implementation. Even well-equipped and trained reserve units, would not be able to launch with the necessary speed needed for an immediate fast response. Consequently, we have focused our new development plan to deal with modern threats using rapid response developed techniques. Enlarging the rapid reaction force from 17,000 combatants to 21,000 and focusing on the full arming, supplying, and training according to our own principles established several years ago.

The market is full of "good" priced modern weapons and the seemingly cheaper so called second rate weapons, however, due to maintenance costs may prove to be quite expensive in the long run . How do you make the right decisions in order to make sound procurements?

We must find the optimal balance. We definitely cannot put the emphasis on the purchase of ultra-modern and expensive technical equipment, because in that case, we would put all resources in one object. We must procure in such a manner that it would fulfill our set tasks giving us the capability we require. Each tender must be not only be able to get the contract at a reasonable price, but the price must cover the entire life cycle of the acquisition. It all has to be calculated into the price. We have been amateurs in our attempts in previous years. Only at the beginning of 2009 have we been able to estimate the costs of a battalion. Before that, we simply did not have the proper comparable data.

Estonia has experience in joint procurement with our neighbours for larger  equipment acquisitions. What are the opportunities here for the future?

It is difficult to find common starting points with several countries at the same time, to collectively identify needs and agree on the details. It was shown with the Nordic countries during their shared helicopter procurement, which saw separate needs logistically and each country wanting different helicopters.

But it is sensible when it is between two countries, as it was with Finland and Estonia with the radar system purchase. We can buy directly from one country under this development plan; consequently we want to focus on the procurement of used, but still in good order, modern weapons. We have entered into co-operation agreements with Sweden, Germany and Finland under which we can make joint procurements. The coordination system is now in place, we simply need to find common projects.

When we talk about total defence, other ministries in case of war or in a crisis situation must meet certain obligations and responsibilities in their specific areas. In the new development plan are these obligations clearly defined?

We were initially very optimistic in our planning; unfortunately it did not quite develop as thought. The development of the National Defence Plan has been under the leadership of the Ministry of Defence and collaboration with other ministries has not been easy. We have not always found a common language for example, in the understanding of the planning cycle. Other structures do not use a capability based planning method and are more likely to be based on a fixed time structure even spread out to a ten year plan. We did arrive though at a common understanding of what capabilities should one or the other structure develop in peacetime and have in wartime. But how to develop these ideas has not been achieved yet. Consequently, we received a grace period to the end of the year to agree upon the broad-basics of defence matters.

We must use our realistic resources to the maximum to develop quick response capabilities with which to respond to situations, if needed, in a short time, to threats arising around the world. But we must also be able to defend our own nation in case of larger, all encompassing conflicts. We must accomplish this within our budget, because we must defend Estonia – there is no alternative to that. We have already tried, not defending our country once.

It has been proven in 1939-1940 that if you do not defend your country the results are much worse, than to defend your country at the expense of casualties.

For this very reason, there is no alternative. At the same time never in history has the security of Estonia been more assured than now because we are a member the strongest military alliance in the world. It has been difficult throughout the years being an Allie but our professionalism of our soldiers has won the trust of our Allies through sacrifices in international operations. Consequently our national defence is taken very seriously by our NATO partners.

We are organizing joint exercises more frequently with our Allies. When will the tank units of our partners take part in our exercises, at Kevadtorm for example, so that our conscripts and reserve forces could experience and learn how to realistically train alongside tanks in the terrain.

International participation in Kevadtorm makes a lot of sense and inviting our strategic partners is expedient. Latvia and Lithuania have already participated and last year there was a Belgian unit at the exercise.

The Commander of NATO Multinational Corps North East was at the last exercise and we agreed that the North East Corps would also be participating in a future exercises. We should not omit tanks in the future although currently helicopter participation is more realistic. I understand why tanks make sense to our Defence Forces. I am a big supporter of that weapon system, although we have decided within the framework of the current development plan, that after four years it will be possible to discuss about the creation of a monetarily and personnel wise more expensive force, do we go with air defence or heavy armour defence.

How much have the new Defence Development Plan calculations been influenced by planning experiences gained at NATO structures? 

Strength based planning has been a standard in so called grown up NATO nation plans. Today we are in the forefront, in that we planned our strengths as a whole. If we do this sensibly and the economic situation keeps at the same level, as the finance ministries have predicted, we will not be far from our goal. If the economic situation follows the 2008-2009 trend we will be unable to fulfil our plan. I hope it will not be so. The more secure a society is, the better is its economic situation. With that positive trend one can create new and good possibilities.

War has been averted in Europe, and Nations rely on NATO, has this given Europe including the NATO Nordic partners a reason to lessen their defence expenditures?

Belief in the strength of NATO has created an illusion of security. The first signs of change are coming from the so called old NATO nations. For the first time in a long while Netherlands has not lessened its defence expenditures and has instead kept it at the same level as the previous year. This is a definite sign that somewhere alarms have sounded.

We have to stress this in Europe that security is not automatically available for everyone and there are many more threats today than there were ten years ago.

Fortunately the US, the UK, France and Germany are still militarily very strong, consequently there is no fear that their strength will wane and European nations could not defend themselves. There is also the question of how much influence can they convey to the world with their expeditions. This is a major political question. NATO is capable of defending itself today and Estonia’s small part in fulfilling Article 3 obligations is very important.

Estonia is situated in a geopolitically complicated area. We have an extensive sea border and several authorities to guard it. Were there any discussions on merging the navy, naval border guard and maritime administration fleets?

With the new defence development plan we focused on defence capabilities. Throughout the years the Navy has developed into a unique niche capability and has a very good reputation in NATO in this area. We decided therefore that we must maintain our MCM capabilities with our three Sandown-class vessels and modernization of said vessels is foreseen in our development plan.

As for the merger of listed fleets, it requires political agreement and a deep understanding of this requirement because this unification process would be expensive. This concept has not been abandoned and unification is rational but the Defence Forces are not in a lead position here. We are open for cooperation with all other agencies that work on the sea, and we utilize all joint work possibilities.

How do we assure to our people who have suffered through an economic down turn where they have lost close to a quarter of their income, that we are taking care of them? How can we inject confidence back into our trained people?

Trust cannot be gained in a couple of years. In the last few years the Defence Forces we have developed policies on procurements and other similar objectives. It has been necessary process but today we need to support our personnel strategy. Our leaders at different levels need to hear people out, discuss things with them, teach them and of course pay a worthy salary.

We need to find common values whereby we can jointly agree to go on in this. As leaders, every platoon commander, every company commander, every battalion commander must be self-aware that they must behave with a strong moral fibre. The best would be if we could all agree on these values. I will be stressing this in coming years.

Salaries are not less essential. In the last year we brought the salaries back to the pre-economic down turn level.

Taking into account how much was fought over salaries; the government has understood that well educated defence forces personnel is crucial. The fact that the personnel budget was enlarged by 18.7% which is reflected in the salary of every individual in the Defence Forces shows that the members of the Defence Forces are held in importance.

What needs to be done by our officers and non-commissioned officers for conscripts to remain in the service after their mandatory service time is up?

We can want them to do that but when a member of the Defence Forces faces his everyday problems or when he cannot take his wife to the movies because of financial problems, then you cannot expect that he will succeed in higher goals. You can understand how important and significant it is to give them value. Constant griping will not accomplish anything. The first responsibility of a leader is to improve himself, to find the positive in his work and service. Only then do his subordinates feel positive and this will be reflected with new recruits.

On our part we are doing everything to give value on all levels to the individual. But in a bureaucratic system it is unbelievably difficult. I have grappled with this problem, even within myself. Unfortunately it is very difficult to change the operations of an existing organization used to its own ways, it is much simpler to deal with things bureaucratically, the answer is always on paper.

We must press and change internal communications to a normal activity. We must achieve a level whereby we cannot always simply rely on our superior for the answer to all questions. We have to be able to concern the military enough that: we give tasks, give the tools but leave the decisions to subordinates. As well as allow our subordinates to make mistakes and not punish them when things go wrong. Punish them only when something is left undone. This change can be very complex.

The new Defence Forces Service Act also encompasses women’s voluntary service entry procedures. How large do you envision the women’s role in the Defence Forces?

I haven’t set an exact goal. The role of women in the Defence Forces will develop as society deems it. Obviously it will be less than in the Nordic countries because we are still a very male dominated society. We never have had many women in our parliament, politics or economics. Perhaps women will constitute 10-15% of the Defence Forces active duty, cadre section; this would be a good result.

The Defence League has long awaited its wartime responsibilities. The responsibilities of the land defence given to the Defence League warrants that on a rotational basis serving in the Defence League would be part of active duty and a military career, when service in the active duty ends at five o'clock on Friday, while in the Defence League this is when training only begins.

This rotation is not simple, it has not been done for years. Although some officers and I personally have served in the Defence League. This must change to become a part of the normal cycle of service, as is teaching at the National Defence College but not staying there indefinitely.

One of the first steps that we have initiated with the Commander of Defence League, Brigadir General Kiili is that it would become a normal routine. This requires developing a separate career system.

At the same time we need to develop, as well as very clearly word it in our Defence Development implementation plan and prioritize reserve officers and reserve non-commissioned officers into the career system. There must be a clearly shown how this affects reservists in the Defence League and how it affects other reservists. The Defence League (like the National Defence College) cannot be selected individuals’ final service location.

This is one reason why we have tightened our never fully manned command structure. That there would not be chronically unfulfilled posts. Every good person should find a place where they can be competent. We will be having approximately 500 in growth and the Defence League must grow alongside the Defence Forces. Defence League cadre officers must be in normal rotations with the Defence Forces. We cannot have elitism especially not an even more elite Defence Forces. This is not easy to accomplish because the Defence League is situated across the nation and it is very easy to take from the counties were there is no Defence Forces presence.

We have already observed that, in current rotations non-commissioned officers as well as officers have done this on their own initiative. Several Defence League section leaders have received their initial training in the Defence Forces. The Defence League leaders should make clear to themselves that this is not a lifetime position. The rotation in the Defence League should take longer in that since the members are not always available it would take longer to get to know them.

What kind of changes are we to expect with the Land Forces restructuring?

If we are talking about the 1st Infantry Brigade, then it is the Scouts Battalion, Kalev Battalion and Guard Battalion that will be equipped with the armoured vehicles. The 2nd Infantry Brigade, in the southern Estonia will in the future be equipped similarly to the 1st Infantry Brigade.

When the 1st Infantry Brigade receives their mobile artillery pieces, then the existing 155mm howitzers will go to the 2nd Infantry Brigade and the 122mm howitzers will go to the reserve units, specifically the basic readiness active reserve units. The initiation of the new units and the corresponding reservist exercises will continue in the same way as before, they simply will not receive any additional resources until the rapid response units are manned and equipped.

All weapons currently in use will have extra ammunition in stock. We cannot repeat the situation that we had with the 105mm howitzer, where the holding the ammunition was very expensive, as was the destruction of aged and non-useable ammunition. All of the developmental strengths must have their lifecycle measured and they must at all times have a supply of usable ammunition. On a war scenario; zero day, no one will start supplying us with needed ammunition. Upon the creation of our rapid response capability we will make sure that all of the combat companies and internal defence companies of all units, including the Defence League must receive necessary weapons, an extra supply of ammunition, an ample supply of exercise ammunition and any other supplies they require.

What is the future of the Defence Districts?

Let’s take the North East Defence District for example, that has the assignment of territorial and brigade assignments but that has a weak infantry brigade that is tied to the territory. But it trains and supports many units; the artillery, anti-ballistic and engineer, all for the 1st Infantry Brigade. They are already units in the brigade and their personnel are on the role of the brigade. At the same time we have our infantry brigade which is located in Paldiski and is undermanned. The sum of this strong brigade is not fixed territorially but a mobile combat unit that can use the entire territory of Estonia. The Southern Defence District is currently weak with few units and few battle support units with little equipment, weapons and is tied to the territory. We will change the Southern Defence district to a mobile brigade as well. We will bring them, battle support units, logistics and engineers as well as weapons and supplies.

We also have a territorial defence that currently exists without exercise capabilities. Because the commander of the Defence district can only cooperate with the Defence League units but not command. The task of territorial defence is given to the Defence League that commands all of the Defence League combat units utilizing a five defence district structure.

The Defence districts command a local war situation; they mobilize only their own units, not all of the reservists. Additionally the Western district and Defence Forces logistical centre would be the support unit command that would mobilize that section of reservists that would be outside the Brigade and Defence League as well as the rapid response units.

The tasks of the Northern Defence district are also accomplished through the Defence League, manned by officers sent there to their staff headquarters. The Defence League has 5500 individuals to train their territorial defence units. These Defence League units are already formed. The Defence League on a whole will be sectioned by the formation centres as per the formation needs of the brigade and support unit command.

With forming the new Support Command, do our Allies and partners have anything similar in their command structures?

Our partners have similar structures. But it is hard to compare because there are not many mobilization based armed forces left in Europe. The Support Command must deal with human and supply resources, management and accounting. This is a very complicated grouping and how successful we are in developing this, remains to be seen.

The Defence Forces Headquarters has analysed the situation and has put forth a proposal that has yet to be filled with content. The implementation of the Development Plan is being collected. I can say today that we arranging a Defence Forces reform not a national defence reform. Everything that has been done till know will remain. All units that we have supported till now will remain. But we are determined to totally complete these units.

A unit is complete when it has weapons, supplies and trained as well as its supplies are not given to the another unit so that they go to an exercise. A completed unit is one that has a necessary amount of ammunition and other supplies. Only then can we think about investing in additional capabilities. If we can source something cheaper then we will source more. Our ten year development plan is flexible.

Headquarters of the Estonian Defence Forces, 717 1900, mil[at]mil.ee, Juhkentali 58, EE15007, Tallinn, Estonia.

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