Baltic Defence Study Trip (BDST) 2023

The annual Baltic Defence Study Trip (BDST) 2023 occurred from November 27-29. During the trip, the three groups of Joint Command and General Staff Course (JCGSC) students and faculty tackled one capital of the Baltic Defence College (BALTDEFCOL) Framework Nations.

During their visit to the capitals of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the JCGSC students had the chance to engage with local military and defence authorities, visit key defence facilities, and gain insights into the security challenges faced by these Baltic nations. These experiences significantly contribute to understanding regional security dynamics and enhance their military strategy and leadership education.


Day 1

The JCGSC delegation to Estonia commenced the study trip on November 27 with a visit to the Tapa base, where the JCGSC students received briefs about the 1st Infantry Brigade and its activities and plans within the framework of the recently established Estonian Division. Brigade commander COL Andrus Merilo also reflected on the importance of the Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) units, both for training and defence readiness purposes. This was confirmed by the representative of the eFP battlegroup, who provided the students with an overview of the battlegroup and its deployment cycle. In the latter part of the visit, the students were introduced to the concepts and practice of receiving mobilized Estonian troops and forming them into combat-ready units. The hosts also elaborated on the conduct of the Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration (RSOI) of Allied troops. The visit to Tapa left the students with a strong impression of the solidarity of the Allies and practical reassurance measures taken as a result of several NATO summits from past years. The political aspects of security and defence in Estonia and within the Alliance context were further discussed in the afternoon when the students visited the Estonian Parliament and were hosted by the National Defence Committee chaired by Mr Kalev Stoicescu.The day ended with a cordial dinner hosted by the Deputy Chief of the Estonian Defence Forces Headquarters, COL Mart Vendla.

Day 2

On November 28, the students spent a day at the Naval Base in Miinisadam Harbour, receiving briefs from the representatives of the Ministry of Defence, the Estonian Centre for Defence Investment, the Estonian Defence Forces Headquarters, the Estonian Defence League and the NATO Forward Integration Unit Estonia. The students also toured an Estonian Navy minehunter, received an introduction to the key equipment of Estonian Navy divers and received a briefing from the Head of the Estonian Navy about the Navy’s plans and capability developments. The day was wrapped up by a visit to the Seaplane Harbor Museum.

Day 3

On November 29, the students visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and NATO Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, receiving thorough lectures on contemporary political challenges and the cyber realm. From the CCDCOE, the students headed to Ämari Air Base and got an introduction to the base and its plans and capability developments, as well as the Spanish Air Policing unit and the additional reinforcement of the NASAMS air defence unit. Similar to the visit to the Tapa base, this part of the trip demonstrated the resolve of NATO Allies to contribute with tangible capabilities to the security and defence of other Allies.


Day 1

On November 27, the JCGSC delegation to Latvia visited Riga Castle, where Mr Aivars Puriņš, National Security Advisor to the President of Latvia and Secretary to the National Security Council, delivered a briefing on the role of the Latvian President, the National Security Council, Latvian national strategy, the political defence vision of Latvia, and the main challenges of defence in the future.

After the visit to Riga Castle, the JCGSC delegation to Latvia visited the Saeima and was briefed by Raimonds Bergmanis, Member of Parliament and Chairman of the Defence, Internal Affairs and Corruption Prevention Agency. After lunch, the JCGSC delegation to Latvia visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia and was briefed by Inga Jansone, Counsellor from the Security Policy Department. The last brief of day one of the trip was held at the Ministry of Defence and delivered by Jānis Karlsbergs from the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence.

Day 2

On November 28, the delegation spent the entire day at the Ministry of Defence and received a welcoming speech given by Parliamentary Secretary Atis Švinka and briefs from the following officials:

  • Anita Rjaščenko-Šaraka, Head of the Department of Policy and Strategy Section;
  • Valdis Otzulis, Director of the Defence Planning and Analysis Department;
  • Aigars Mikiško, Director of the Crisis Management Department;
  • Dace Kundrāte, Director of the Military Affairs Department;
  • LTC Jundze, assistant to the Deputy Head of J-3/5/7 Department;
  • MAJ Linda Cicerne from the LVA NFIU;
  • On the evening of 28 NOV, the JCGSC was hosted for dinner by BG Kaspars Zdanovskis, Deputy Chief of Joint HQ LNAF.

Day 1

On November 27, the JCGSC delegation to Lithuania, representing students from nine nations (Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Sweden, Ukraine, and the United States of America) visited the Ministry of Defence of Lithuania and conversed with Mr Vaidotas Urbelis, Policy Director. Topics ranged from defence policy and strategy, regional security concerns, military modernisation and capabilities, and international military cooperation.

After leaving the MoD, students were received at the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania. They were briefed by the chair of the Defence Committee, Ms Dovile Sakaliene. Ms Sakaliene emphasised the current challenges of total defence and the transpartisan commitment to strengthen preparations. Russian propaganda and conspiracy theories were also covered.

Students departed for the Defence Staff of the Lithuanian Armed Forces and enjoyed a meal at the resident canteen, where they tasted the traditional Lithuanian cuisine. They then received briefings from representatives from the Defence Staff and NATO Force Integration Unit, exploring topics regarding how the Lithuania Defence Forces ensure interoperability with NATO standards and practices, insights into the planning processes and procedures of the Defence Staff, as well as logistical aspects of supporting NATO forces in Lithuania, including infrastructure, supply chains, and resource management.

The Office of the President of the Republic of Lithuania honoured the BDC delegation by receiving them. Former Baltic Defence College alumni and legal advisor to the Lithuanian President, Mr. Tomas Godliauskas, and Ms. Rima Malakauskienė introduced them to the national strategy and defence plan.

In the evening, students enjoyed a guided cultural and historical tour of the underground Crypts of Vilnius Cathedral. The Vilnius Cathedral is a testament to Lithuania’s national identity, and its enduring presence has often bolstered the spirit of resistance among Lithuanians during times of conflict. After visiting the Cathedral, students were hosted by the Lithuanian Military Academy (MAL) for a banquet dinner.

Day 2

On November 28, the delegation arrived at the MAL and received a brief from BG Almantas Leika, discussing recruitment and retention, Officer Leader development, preserving and promoting military traditions and history, and adapting to geopolitical change. Afterwards, the group discussed the Energy Security Center of Excellence and the Lithuanian Mobilization and Civil Resistance Department with the leading teams.

In the afternoon, the delegation visited the memorial for Lithuanian partisans in Minaičiai and learned about the rich heritage of the ‘Presidium of the Council of the Movement of the Struggle for Freedom of Lithuania. This memorial was the site of the congress, which served as the meeting location for all partisan commanders in Lithuania to unite freedom fighters and declare the political will to restore an independent Lithuanian state.

Day 3

On November 28, the final day of the trip, students visited Šiauliai Air Base, the Lithuanian Air Force main base, and the HQ of the Lithuanian Air Force. They received briefings by the NATO Air Police Detachment in support of NATO’s air policing mission. Following the briefings, the students visited an additional cultural tour at the Hill of Crosses, located near Šiauliai in northern Lithuania. The site served as a historic and prominent site of Catholic pilgrimage and has witnessed several attempts by the Soviets to destroy and deter visits; however, over time, this has become yet another monument and symbol of resilience against oppression, signifying the unity and strength of the Lithuanian people.


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