This week the students of the Joint Command and General Staff Course visited the capitals and different military units of the Baltic states as part of the annual Baltic Defence Study Trip (BDST). This visit is an integral and important part of the course curriculum, providing the students with an opportunity to stay connected to the realities of regional security and defence matters. The students were divided into groups and each group visited one of the capitals.
The visited institutions were chosen by the principle that the students would gain knowledge on the national defence policies, decision-making principles, and defence planning priorities. In addition, some of the institutions contributed to familiarisation with international military structures, including NATO's presence in the region, as well as the attainment of a better understanding of national military installations and facilities.
The “Estonia” group visited firstly Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) Tapa Army Base and had briefings given by LTC Mart Sirel, the Chief of Staff of the 1st Infantry Brigade and LTC Simon Worth, the Commander of the eFP Battle Group (BG). Both presenters gave an overview of the organisation, its mission and tasks and students had a possibility to see the infrastructure and equipment of units located in the Tapa Army Base. The Tapa Base is the biggest military base in Estonia, located next to the Central Training Area, excellent for artillery live-fire exercises and tracked unit manoeuvres. After the visit, the students headed to Tallinn and its beautiful downtown was explored with a guide.
The second day took students to the EDF Naval Base. They had an opportunity to meet with Commodore Jüri Saska, the Commander of the Navy, who gave an overview of the essence and capabilities of the Navy Force. Brigadier General Riho Ühtegi, Commander of the Estonian Defence League (EDL) explained how the voluntary national defence organisation is operating in Estonia. There are 16 000 members in the defence league and together with affiliated organisations the EDL has 26,000 volunteers in action.
In addition to the briefings by the subdivisions of the EDF, the students also had several briefings by the Public Sector authorities. Among others, students met with Ambassador Mrs Kyllike Sillaste-Elling and Mr. Peeter Kuimet. After the briefings, the students had the possibility to see the infrastructure of the Naval Base and visit the Divers unit as well.
At the Estonian Parliament, the Defence Committee representative, Mr. Leo Kunnas spoke about the Estonian national security and defence policy, strategy, main interests, and priorities.
On the last day, the BDST continued at the Ämari Air Base to learn more about the Estonian Air Forces organization, mission, main tasks, and role in regional and international security, etc. Briefings were given by the Air Forces Headquarters Chief of Staff Colonel Janek Lehiste, Air Surveillance Division Commander Lieutenant Colonel Gerry Karro, and Major Tanel Rattiste. Major Rattiste introduced the Air Base infrastructure and capabilities; next, students visited the rescue team as well as got more knowledge about Jet Aircraft L-39.
Colonel Fabio De Luca (ITA), Commander of the Italian Eurofighter detachment briefed about Baltic Air Policing's role in regional and international security, its organization, mission, main tasks, etc.
As Latvia declared a three-month state of emergency, the first day of the briefings was held online. The students had an extraordinary opportunity to virtually meet with the President’s Advisor on National Security matters Mr. Jānis Kažociņš. The advisor shared his views on national security and said that hybrid warfare is something to consider. He also stressed that Baltic states should prepare for the mass migration in the region.
After the Q/A session, Mr Raimonds Bergmanis from Defence, Internal Affairs and Corruption Prevention Committee gave a deep insight of Latvian Parliament’s work process and explained different committees’ main topics regarding Defence.
The second day was dedicated to familiarization with the Ministry of Defence and Latvian National Armed Forces (LNAF). After the welcoming speech by Mr Jānis Garisons, State Secretary of Ministry of Defence, students had an interesting discussion with Mr Vilmārs Vītoliņš, Deputy Head of the Defence Policy and Strategy Section of the Defence Policy Department. The main statement of his speech was that support from the allies is needed and Latvia has the readiness to fight, if necessary. To deepen the students’ knowledge, the Director of Security Policy Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Mr Jānis Zlamets explained the MFA’s role in the national defence.
Moving from political level to strategic level, the students gained knowledge about LNAF. LTC Jundze introduced its structure, training and cooperation. The students had the possibility to familiarize themselves with the premises, barracks and other facilities, and ask questions about the military infrastructure. A briefing by the NATO Force Integration Unit (NFIU) Acting Deputy Commander LTC Norbert Wosnik (DEU) concluded the second day. During the briefing, LTC Wosnik explained the general NFIUs role in NATO and specific focus in Latvia. NFIU is a good example of NATO’s presence in the region as its primary mission is to foster collaboration between national forces and the NATO High Readiness Forces in times of military-political crises.
The last day offered an opportunity to meet with LNAF Land Forces Mechanized Infantry Brigade Commander COL Sandris Gaugers and LTC John Benson, the Commander of the eFP Battle Group (BG) Latvia. Firstly, Col Gaugers gave an overview of the Mechanized Brigade and its significant capability development. He confirmed that eFB BG is fully integrated into the Mechanized Brigade as well as into the National Defence Plan. Afterwards, LTC Benson introduced eFP BG role in Latvia.
The visit to Latvia ended with a meeting with the representatives of the Multinational Division North.
The first day of the “Lithuania” group focused on the political level. In the Ministry of Defence, Colonel Saulius Guzevičius gave a very good overview of the key challenges and the building of resilience against hybrid threats. The students also received the resources allocation overview, to understand the priorities of the Lithuanian defence sector. LTC Elvinas Serva from Defence Staff continued with his briefing and talked about the development and modernization of Lithuanian armed forces.
From the NFIU side, LTC Hubert Neumaier (DEU-A) explained its role in Lithuania as the main deployment facilitator for NATO Forces. It was particularly interesting to learn, among other accomplishments, the crucial role of the NFIU in facilitating the agreement that eased the crossing of borders for NATO forces.
The Parliament “Seimas” representative, Mr Laurynas Kaščiūnas gave a very meaningful briefing about the importance of the comprehensive crisis response system as the main tool of countering the hybrid threats.
After the long day of briefings, the students spent their afternoon in the Cathedral Basilica of St Stanislavas and its crypt.
On the second day, students drove to the Iron Wolf Brigade, where Chief of Staff, LTC Darius Meilūnas briefed about the modernization, new capabilities, and cooperation with NATO eFP contingent. The brief also included a discussion on the COVID impact on military activities. The German-led NATO eFP Battlegroup presented its capabilities and contribution to the security of the region including exercises, and military education. Students had an opportunity to look around and became acquainted with the equipment. On the way to Šiauliai, the students made a break in the Forest Brother Bunker Museum.
The trip was concluded in the Lithuanian Air Force (LTAF) Base in Šiauliai. After the briefing by LTAF Commander Lieutenant Colonel Antanas Matutis, the development of infrastructure and NATO's presence in the region were also discussed. The Commander of the NATO Air Policing F-16 Detachment wrapped up the day by talking about the mission, personnel and equipment.
After the study trip, each BDST Group conducted briefings to inform other students about major findings, as it is important to gain knowledge from each direction to understand regional security in general. In addition, the discussion about the allocation of resources, ongoing developments, NATO presence in the region is important to prepare students for multi-service and international joint environments to meet the complex security challenges from Baltic and Euro-Atlantic perspectives. Overall, the received feedback from the students was very good and BALTDEFCOL appreciates all the counterparts who contributed to this annual Baltic Defence Study Trip.
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