From 1 January 2020 security of the Baltic airspace is ensured by three Command and Reporting Centers designed for specific national airspace surveillance, based in Tallinn, Lielvarde, and Karmėlava, instead of one joint unit.
It is said that they enhance capabilities of NATO’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense System, regional interoperability, and reliability of protection of the Alliance airspace. On December 19 the new BALTNET (Baltic Air Surveillance Network and Control System) configuration and three national centers in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were inaugurated at a ceremony in Kaunas.
According to the Baltic States’ officials, three countries have moved from the defensive to offensive measures in order to provide their security and defence.
The more so, the three Baltic Allies have launched the cooperative project of the BALTNET future configuration to further enhance their contribution to NATO’s collective defence effort and architecture.
Major Pärn, senior Estonian officer at Baltic Control and Reporting Centre (CRC) Karmelava said that “a before-and-after comparison clearly shows that we are moving from peacetime construct with just one joint Baltic CRC to the crisis-and-conflict-capable architecture of three Control and Reporting Points, including back-up capabilities and clear responsibilities increasing support for Allies and enhancing our national skills in special fields such as surface-based air defense, integration of ground forces and intelligence.”
This sounds like a very proud statement to any who is not accustomed with the situation.
At the moment, the Armed Forces of the three states are deprived of modern air defense systems. The main reason for this, as Estonian Defence Minister Jüri Luik admitted, is the lack of money.
For example, the Estonian Armed Forces continue to use the Soviet 23mm Anti-aircraft Cannon ZU-23-2, despite the supply of other systems. Thus, Tallinn has been purchasing the Mistral portable air defense missile systems. In 2018, the Ministry of Defence of Estonia signed a contract with the European company MBDA for the supply of these systems. However, the Mistral missiles have a range of 6km only.
In the coming years, Lithuania will remain the only owner of medium-range air defense systems in the region. In 2017, the Lithuanian Air Force was set to procure NASAMS mid-range air defense systems for $ 122.4 million from Norway. The missile is able to hit targets at the range of up to 40 km and at the height of up to 14 km. However, NASAMS, developed in the early 1990s, can’t be named the most advanced air defense system.
Washington provides financial assistance to the Baltic States but the amount of funds allocated for the needs of air defense is small: as Luik previously reported, in 2020 Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia will receive a total of $ 50 million from the Pentagon’s budget.
Generally speaking, the United States is interested in developing the air defense system of the Baltic region, but is not ready to invest substantial financial resources in it. For this reason, Russia doesn’t consider BALTNET to be a serious threat.
At the same time, Russia is not going to tolerate the Baltic States’ attempts to enhance NATO military strength near its borders. Moscow considers these measures as demonstration of readiness to attack. Its reaction is unpredictable and the Baltic States with its population have become real targets. BALTNET will help to detect a threat, but will not defend. On the other hand, three Baltic States are the NATO’s shield, aimed to stop Russia in case of war. On the other hand, NATO, probably, could stop Russia in the Baltic States, but these countries in this case will cease to exist. They will be Target Number One with no chances.