When Lithuania had huddled up under NATO’s wing, it felt more secure and even unconcerned as to where it would get more funding for its army or how it could modernize it. The events in Georgia and Ukraine, however, jolted the Baltic country out of its lethargy and forced it to look at how it can strengthen its armed forces.
Lithuanian ground forces
© P.Brown nuotr.

The first sign of this was the conscription. Lithuania will once again set up a military reserve which, in the event of military aggression, would be able to confront its invaders. But that is not enough. In order to resist a Russian military remodeled by Putin, modern military equipment is needed.

The biggest military budget in Lithuania’s history

The 2015 defence budget amounted to 425 million euro, or 1.15 percent of Lithuania’s overall GDP. Next year, the defence budget will be 150 million more, amounting to €575.2 million, or 1.48 percent of GDP. We’ve now joined those NATO countries that are increasing their defense budgets and have become the 19th of 28 NATO countries ranked by defence funding.

Minister of National Defence Juozas Olekas said that the modernization and reinforcement of the Lithuanian army will begin with the acquisition of weapons and military equipment as well as with modernization projects. Next year, the Ministry of National Defence will start negotiations on acquiring the BOXER, an armoured infantry vehicle that will mark a new stage in the modernization of the Lithuanian army. Lithuania should receive the machines by 2017.

“First and foremost, next year we should hope for peace. I am nevertheless glad that the Lithuanian army will take on over 3,000 volunteers next year. In 2016, we will continue the modernization. Firstly, I would like to mention that a contract has already been signed for Howitzers from Germany. I hope that an agreement will be signed for infantry armoured vehicles; Military uniforms, ammunition, automatic weapons, antitank and antiaircraft weapons will also be modernized. They will be of high quality and serve as new steps in modernizing our army. In addition to the acquisitions I’ve mentioned, the actual infrastructure of the army, service conditions and salaries of military personnel should also increase. Next year, then, can be called a year of strengthening the army and the defence of the country,” Olekas said.

We’ll be a match for Russian tanks

Armaments expert Darius Antanaitis says that in 2016, when it comes to military equipment, the Howitzer PzH2000 will be deployed in Lithuania and an agreement on the BOXER armoured vehicle will be signed. This would mean that we’d get the first armoured vehicles by 2017.

Political defense expert Aleksandras Matonis agrees that these events are the most significant ones, and he added that the armoured vehicle transaction can cost around 330 million euro. For that price, we’ll get 88 BOXER infantry vehicles for two rapid response battalions.

“They’re very well-armed armored vehicles, they’re direct with very concentrated fire to destroy targets approaching or already in our territory. It’s a distance which the enemy’s equipment cannot cover,” - says Matonis.

However, even without this military equipment in 2016, we will continue purchasing anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry.

Antanaitis says that, for the time being, it’s not clear as to what the nature of Lithuania’s anti-aircraft defense will be, although there is public talk of acquiring the mid-range NASAMS 2 Norwegian defense system

There is also talk that this anti-aircraft system can cost about 100 million euro. With the NASAMS 2 system, we will be able to neutralize any flying object 30 km away.

“Up to today, we were able to, in theory, stop and shoot down a flying aircraft or helicopter. Nevertheless, with the NASAMS 2, we’ll be able to fully defend a strategic location like Vilnius. Likewise, with the anti-aircraft system deployed in the Kaliningrad area, we could completely block any potential bombers or destroyers against our country”, - said Antanaitis.

In his opinion, purchasing the NASAMS 2 should remove one of the last shortcomings of the Lithuanian army, which will now have long-range artillery, heavily armed and armoured infantry vehicles, and anti-tank weaponry. This means that we’ll be a match when it comes to fighting Russian tanks.

Aleksandras Matonis says that there is also the Javelin anti-tank missile system, which Lithuania already signed a purchase agreement for at the beginning of 2016.

“Just last week, the US government decided to export weaponry like this to Lithuania. The Javelin is one of the most advanced anti-tank systems in the world. It destroys tanks 3,5 km away on the principle of fire-and-forget. It is an extremely good and powerful weapon and its efficacy approaches 100 percent. It is a very costly weapon which Lithuania bought about 12 years ago, but we didn’t buy many. Next year, it is planned to acquire 76 launchers and more than 200 rockets. That is a substantially large quantity and in actual fact a quantity like that should suffice to destroy five tank battalions, and in one battalion, according to Russian doctrine, there are 41 tanks”, - says Mr. Matonis.

Weapons expert Darius Antanaitis believes that if Lithuania acquires the anticipated weapons and signs the planned agreements in 2016, it will become the one of the most powerful countries in the region.

“You can say that a sound foundation will be laid for the ground forces, one on which it would be possible to model everything else. After implementing the plan, we would be the most advanced army in our region, and I’d even be so bold as to say in Europe, if we consider only land forces and not air or naval forces. We would be one of the most advanced and powerful because you must count not in units but in quantity and quality of military forces per capita”, says Antanaitis.

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