Military Wiki
Estonian Defence Forces
Eesti Kaitsevägi
EKV coat of arms.svgKvyldlipp.jpg
Estonian Defence Forces emblem and flag
Service branches

Estonian Ground Force
Estonian Air Force
Estonian Naval Force

Headquarters Tallinn
Commander-in-Chief Major General Martin Herem
Minister of Defence Urmas Reinsalu
Chief of General Staff Brigadier General Veiko-Vello Palm
Military age 18 - 28 years old
Conscription 8 or 11 months
Available for
military service
366,040 males, age 17-60,
317,852 females, age 17-60
Fit for
military service
218,448 males, age 17-60,
264,187 females, age 17-60
Reaching military
age annually
~12,000 males,
~15,000 females
Active personnel 3,209[1]
Reserve personnel 60,000[2]
Budget €645.4 million (2021)[3]
Percent of GDP 2.29% (2021)
Related articles

Military history of Estonia 1918-20 War of Independence
2003-09 War in Iraq

2003-... War in Afghanistan
Ranks Military ranks of Estonia

The Estonian Defence Forces (Estonian language: Eesti Kaitsevägi ) is the name of the unified armed forces of the Republic of Estonia. The Estonian military is a defence force consisting of Estonian Land Forces, Merevägi (Navy), Õhuvägi (Air Force) and a paramilitary organization Kaitseliit (Defence League). The national defence policy aims to guarantee the preservation of the independence and sovereignty of the state, the integrity of its land area, territorial waters and airspace and its constitutional order. Its main goals remain the development and maintenance of a credible capability to defend the nation's vital interests and development of the Defence Forces in a way that ensures their interoperability with the armed forces of NATO and European Union member states and their capability to participate in the full range of Alliance missions.[4]


After the German Revolution, between 11 and 14 November 1918, ending the German occupation in Estonia, the representatives of Germany formally handed over political power to the Government of Estonia. A few days later Estonia was invaded by the military forces of Bolshevist Russia, marking the beginning of the Estonian War of Independence. The small, poorly armed Estonian military, also known as the (Estonian language: Rahvavägi ) (Peoples Force), was initially pushed back by the Red Army into the vicinity of the capital city of Estonia - Tallinn. A mere 34 kilometers separated Tallinn and the front line. Partly due to the timely arrival of a shipment of arms brought by a British naval squadron the Bolsheviks were stopped.

In January 1919, the Estonian armed forces launched a counteroffensive, the May Offensive, under Commander-in-Chief Johan Laidoner. The Ground Forces were supported by the Royal Navy as well as Finnish, Swedish and Danish volunteers. By the end of February 1919, the Red Army had been expelled from all of the territory of Estonia. On 2 February 1920, the Peace Treaty of Tartu was signed by the Republic of Estonia and the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. After winning the Estonian Liberation War against Soviet Russia and German Freikorps volunteers, Estonia maintained its independence for twenty-two years.

In August 1939, just prior to the start of World War II, Stalin and Hitler secretly decided the fate of the Republic of Estonia, in which the two leaders agreed to divide Eastern Europe into "spheres of special interest" as outlined in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and its Secret Additional Protocol.[5][6] According to this treaty Estonia was to be occupied by the Soviet Union. The Estonian government was forced to give their assent to an agreement which allowed the USSR to establish military bases and station 25,000 troops on Estonian soil for "mutual defence".[7] On 12 June 1940, the order for a total military blockade of Estonia was given to the Soviet Baltic Fleet.[8][9] Given the overwhelming Soviet force, in order to avoid bloodshed and a futile and hopeless war, on 17 June 1940 the Estonian government decided not to resist.[10] The military occupation of Estonia was complete by 21 June 1940.[11][12] The armed forces of Estonia were disarmed in July 1940 by the Red Army according to Soviet orders.[13] Only the Estonian Independent Signal Battalion stationed in Tallinn at Raua Street continued to resist. As the Red Army brought in additional reinforcements supported by armoured fighting vehicles, the battle lasted several hours until sundown. There was one dead, several wounded on the Estonian side and about 10 killed and more wounded on the Soviet side. Military resistance ended with negotiations and the Signal Battalion surrendered and was disarmed.[14]

The Eesti Kaitsevägi was restored on 3 September 1991 by the Supreme Council of the Republic of Estonia. Since 1991, the armed forces of Estonia have re-opened and restored more than 30 old and new units and several army branches.


Its main goals remain the development and maintenance of a credible capability to defend the nation's vital interests and development of the EDF in a way that ensures their interoperability with the armed forces of NATO and EU member states and their capability to participate in the full range of Alliance missions.

In peacetime the main tasks of EDF are to monitor and maintain control over territorial borders and airspace, maintain combat readiness, train conscripts and develop reserve units, participate in NATO and UN-led international missions, and provide assistance to civilian authorities in case of national emergency. In crises the main tasks of EDF are to increase the readiness levels of units as required, prepare for transition to wartime structure and begin mobilization as ordered, integrate units from other ministries, and prepare for assistance from and reception of friendly forces. In wartime the main tasks of EDF are to defend the territorial integrity of the state, to facilitate the arrival and deployment of forces from other countries and co-operate with them, to maintain control over national airspace and facilitate the air defence of strategic assets in co-operation with forces from other countries.

Headquarters and budget

In peacetime the Estonian Defence Forces and the national defence organisations, including the National Guard, are led by the Commander of the Defence Forces. In wartime all these components are commanded by the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces. The Chief of the Defence Forces and the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces are appointed and released from office by the Riigikogu on the proposal of the President of the Republic of Estonia. Starting from 5 December 2011 the Chief of the Defence is Brigade General Riho Terras. The Kaitseväe Peastaap is the headquarter of the military of Estonia and the working body of the Kaitseväe Juhataja of the Defence Forces. The General Staff is a joint staff engaged with operational leadership, training and development of the Defence Forces. Operational leadership is implemented by the Operational Staff, which plans and controls operations and ensures defence readiness and mobilisation. The departments for training and development are responsible for long-term and mid-term planning, resource planning, organisation and control of the planning of training and implementation of national defence activities. The General Staff of the Defence Forces is headed by the Chief of the Headquarters of the Estonian Defence Forces.

Leadership of the national defence

The national defence of Estonia is conducted on the principles of civilian control inherently bound with the democratic organisation of the state. Democratically elected and appointed executive institutions make decisions on the use of the Defence Forces and determine the respective objectives, allocate the necessary resources and monitor the attainment of the objectives. The implementation of the principles of civilian control is guaranteed by defence-related rights, obligations and responsibilities legislatively laid upon the Parliament, the President of the Republic and the Government of the Republic. The highest leader of the national defence is the President of the Republic advised in national defence matters by the National Defence Council composed of the Chairman of the Parliament, the Prime Minister, the Chief of the Defence Forces (the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces in wartime), the Defence Minister, the Minister of Internal Affairs, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Chairman of the Parliamentary National Defence Committee. Executive power in the leadership of the national defence is executed by the Government of the Republic.


Estonian defence areas.

The Defence Forces consist of regular military units totaling 5,600 officers and men, and a voluntary corps, the Defence League with about 12,600 soldiers. The planned size of the operational (wartime) structure at the moment is 30,000 personnel. The Defence Forces are a reserve force, and as such, "all physically and mentally healthy male citizens" must undergo compulsory military service for the duration of either 8 or 11 months, during which time the conscripts are taught the basic skills needed to be mobilized into active duty. The Defence Forces are stationed within four defence districts with headquarters in Tallinn, Tapa, Luunja, Pärnu.

The Estonian Army is structured according to the principle of a reserve force which means that the main part of the defence forces of the state are units in the reserve. For a state with few human and economic resources, a reserve force based on the will of defence of the citizens is the most viable form of national defence.

In peacetime the reservists conduct normal lives and the state takes care of their training and the procurement of equipment and weapons. In wartime the reservists are mobilized into military units. The reserve units are formed on the territorial principle, i.e. conscripts from one area are called up at one time to one unit and after service they are sent to the reserve as one unit. The Estonian Army is always in constant defence readiness in co-operation with the other services.

Land Forces

Estonian soldiers during Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2010 training exercise.

The Estonian Land Forces is the main arm of the Defence Forces. The average size of the military formation in peacetime is about 5,500 of whom about 2,700 are conscripts. The Army component of the operational structure consists of an infantry brigade and 4 Regional Commands. Infantry brigade acts as a training and support frame for deployable units. The Land Force development priorities are the capability to participate in missions outside the national territory and the capability to perform operations to protect the territory of Estonia, also in co-operation with the Allies.

Naval Force

The Merevägi is responsible for all naval operations and protecting of the territorial waters of Estonia. The main functions of the naval force are the preparation and organisation of the defence of the territorial waters and coastal line, ensuring the maritime security, communications and sea traffic in the territorial waters and co-operation with NATO and the navies of other friendly countries around. In case of a crisis situation the Merevägi must be ready to defend sea approaches, harbour areas, sea lines of communication and to co-operate with the coalition units. The Merevägi includes units of patrol ships, minesweepers, a frigate and coast guard units, necessary to ensure the security of maritime communications lines and to establish and clear mine barriers. The majority of the naval forces are situated at the Miinisadam naval base. The current structure operates the Mineships Division which also includes a divers group. In addition there are the Naval Academy, Naval Base at Miinisadam and the Naval Headquarters which are situated in Tallinn.[15]


Frigate ENS Admiral Pitka.

Since 1995 numerous mine clearance operations have been carried out in Estonian waters in close co-operation with other navies of the Baltic Sea region in order to find and dispose ordnance and contribute to safe seagoing. In 2007 the Merevägi mineships fleet was modernized and equipped with the Sandown class minehunters. In 2010, according to the long-term defence development plan, it was announced that the Merevägi will receive some new capabilities. Of those new warfare capabilities the procurement of multirole fast patrol boats will be the priority. The operational need for such vessels is likely to ensure defence of territorial waters and to improve maritime surveillance.[16] In addition to the current capabilities the command and control and shore-to-vessel communications will also be further improved.[17]

Air Force

The Õhuvägi is the main arm of the Estonian aviation forces which has an important role in enhancing flight safety in Estonian airspace. One of the main goals of the Õhuvägi is to build up an air surveillance system, which will be the cornerstone of the air traffic safety and airspace control and the development of an air surveillance system to a level which allows close cooperation with the NATO air defence system.

The Estonian airforce was slow to reform because of the severely damaged and destroyed infrastructure left by the Russians. The Eesti Õhuvägi (Estonian Air force) formed on April 13, 1994. In February 1993 the German government donated two Let L-410UVPs transport aircraft. In October 1994 three Mi-2's were delivered, followed by four MI-8s in November 1995. Initially was task with ground based air surveillance and air defence using only old soviet radars and AAA equipment, but on 15 May 1997 the airforce moved into the former soviet SU-24 base at Amari south of Tallinn. In 1997-98 two of the MI-8's were upgraded. The Õhuvägi has been rebuilding the destroyed military infrastructure left behind by the Russian Army. Most of the funds have been directed to the Ämari military airfield which will be completed in 2012. The objective of developing Ämari Air Base is to prepare it for cooperation with NATO and the air forces of partner nations and allow it to supply the standardized airfield and aircraft services necessary for Host Nation Support.[18] Due to the lack of modern and developed military aviation infrastructure, the Air Force development has been very slow.

Defence League

The Defence League is a voluntary military national defence organisation, which acts in the area of government of the Ministry of Defence. The Defence League possesses arms and engages in military exercises. The main goal of the Defence League is, on the basis of the citizens’ free will and initiative, to enhance the readiness of the nation to defend its independence and its constitutional order, including in the event of military threat.

The Defence League plays an important role in supporting the civil structures. Its members aid in putting out wildfires, volunteer as assistant police members, and ensure safety at various events. Units, consisting of voluntary members of the Defence League, also participate in international peace support operations such as in the Balkan states. The Defence League and its affiliated organisations have positive relations with partner organisations in the Nordic countries, the United States and the United Kingdom.

The organisation is divided into 15 Defence League regional units whose areas of responsibility mostly coincide with the borders of Estonia’s counties. Today, the Defence League has over 11,000 members. The affiliated organisations of the Defence League combine more than 20,000 volunteers, in all, and include the Estonian Defence League’s women’s corps Naiskodukaitse, the Estonian Defence League’s boys’ corps Noored Kotkad, and the Estonian Defence League’s girls’ corps Kodutütred.

Heavy Equipment

Armored personnel carriers
  • Sisu XA-180: 58
  • XA-180 APP-6 Medical.svg ambulance 4
  • XA-180 APP-6 Signals.svg command post vehicle 5
  • XA-180 APP-6 Infantry.svg troop carrier 49
  • Sisu XA-188: 81
  • XA-188 APP-6 Medical.svg ambulance
  • XA-188 APP-6 Signals.svg command post vehicle
  • XA-188 APP-6 Infantry.svg troop carrier
  • BTR-80 UNSh troop carrier
Armored cars

Artillery and mortar systems
  • 81mm mortar B455: 41
  • 81mm mortar NM95: 10
  • 81mm mortar M252: 80
  • 120mm mortar 2B11: 14
  • 120mm mortar M/41D: 165
  • 105mm howitzer M-40: 38
  • 122mm field howitzer D-30: 42
  • 155mm field howitzer FH-70: 24
Anti-tank systems
Anti-aircraft systems
Other systems
Trucks and other support vehicles[19][20]


International cooperation

An Estonian XA-180 in Afghanistan.

Since 2004 Estonia has been a full member of the NATO; it had been one of its foremost priorities since the restoration of independence. The United States is among the countries with which Estonia has very close cooperation in the defence and security fields. Currently Estonia takes seriously participation in the NATO Response Force and contributes in NTM-I (NATO Training Mission - Iraq). Until 2009, Estonia had 40 soldiers fighting alongside American Forces in the Iraq War and 150 soldiers, or about 3% of its total active military force, fighting alongside British Forces in Afghanistan. Estonian forces have since been withdrawn from Iraq. In both cases, the units were regularly rotated. Estonia also provides peacekeepers for international missions in both Bosnia and Kosovo within the framework of the KFOR, and also contributes to EU battlegroups and NATO Response Force rotations and the EU’s anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. The Estonian military employs STANAG (NATO interoperable) weapons and equipment acquired from Finland, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Great Britain, the United States and Israel.

By year 2018, Estonia plans to have either IFVs or tanks (Models and quantity are still unknown)

Place Mission Organization Units and number of personnel
Afghanistan Afghanistan ISAF NATO 150 / Estonian Afghanistan Contingent
Kosovo Kosovo KFOR NATO 50 / Estonian Kosovo Contingent
Somalia Somalia EU-NAVFOR-ATALANTA European Union 10
Middle East UNTSO United Nations 5 officers as military observers
Bosnia and Herzegovina Bosnia EUFOR Althea United Nations 5 officers as military observers
Country Former mission Organization Units and number of personnel Period
Croatia Croatia UNPROFOR United Nations 1995
Lebanon Lebanon UNIFIL United Nations 135 1996-1997
Republic of Macedonia Macedonia EUFOR Concordia European Union 1 2003
Iraq Iraq MNFI NATO 50 / Estonian Iraqi Contingent 2003-2009

Electronic warfare

The Military of Estonia is introducing a new 21st century based cyber warfare and defence formation in order to protect the vital infrastructure and e-infrastructure of Estonia. Currently the leading organization in the Estonian cyber defence is the CERT (the Computer Emergency Response Team of Estonia), established in 2006, as an organisation responsible for the management of security incidents in .ee computer networks. Its task is to assist Estonian internet users in the implementation of preventive measures in order to reduce possible damage from security incidents and to help them in responding to security threats. The unit deals with security incidents that occur in Estonian networks, are started there, or have been notified of by citizens or institutions either in Estonia or abroad.[21] On 25 June 2007, Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves met with the president of USA, George W. Bush.[22] Among the topics discussed were the attacks on Estonian e-infrastructure.[23] The attacks triggered a number of military organisations around the world to reconsider the importance of network security to modern military doctrine. On 14 June 2007, defence ministers of NATO members held a meeting in Brussels, issuing a joint communiqué promising immediate action. First public results are estimated to arrive by autumn 2007.[24] In the aftermath of the Cyberattacks on Estonia 2007, plans to combine network defence with Estonian military doctrine, and related NATO plans to create a Cybernetic Defence Centre in Estonia, have been nicknamed the "Tiger's Defence" (Estonian language: Tiigrikaitse ), in reference to Tiigrihüpe.[25]

See also

Notes and references

  2. Defence forces plan 2013-2022
  3. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Täismahus: 2021. aasta riigieelarve eelnõu ja seletuskiri (in Estonian). ERR.
  4. Estonian National Defence Policy
  5. The World Book Encyclopedia ISBN 0-7166-0103-6
  6. O'Connor, Kevin. "The History of the Baltic States". ISBN 0-313-32355-0
  7. Smith, David J. "The Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania", Page 24, ISBN 0-415-28580-1
  8. (Finnish) Pavel Petrov at Finnish Defence Forces home page
  9. (Russian) Documents published from the State Archive of the Russian Navy[dead link]
  10. Smith, Page 19.
  11. Smith, Page 27.
  12. Five Years of Dates, Time magazine, 24 June 1940
  13. (Estonian) History of the Estonian Defence Forces
  14. (Estonian) 51 years from the Raua Street Battle at Estonian Defence Forces web site
  15. Merevägi
  16. The Navy about to receive fast patrol boats in the worth of 100 million krones
  17. The Long-Term Defence Development Plan: Naval modernization
  18. [1]
  19. Estonian army vehicles
  20. Estonian army vehicles
  21. About CERT Estonia
  22. President Bush to welcome President Toomas Ilves of Estonia, White House press release, 4 May 2007
  23. Bush, Ilves eye tougher tack on cybercrime, Yahoo/Agence France-Presse (AFP), 25 June 2007
  24. (Estonian) NATO andis rohelise tule Eesti küberkaitse kavale, Eesti Päevaleht, 15 June 2007
  25. (Estonian) President Ilves kohtus Ameerika Ühendriikide riigipeaga, Office of the President of Estonia, 25 June 2007

External links

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