Specifics of Forming Army Reserves in the Baltic Countries
By Donatas Palavenis
On 2023 January 5 Minister of National Defense Arvydas Anušauskas and the Commander of the Lithuanian Armed Forces, Lieutenant General Valdemaras Rupšys, expressed their position on the need to reform conscription into the armed forces so that the service would last for 6 months instead of the currently applied 9 months service. It is planned to implement the mentioned reform in 2024. It is foreseen that some of the conscripts will be offered additional three-month training after this stage, during which they will be trained as junior commanders and specialists. After completing the overall 9-month phase, conscripts would be offered a career in professional military service. Alternatives are also provided, e.g., to serve three years on weekends in the National Defense Volunteer Forces, or to perform a three-month service that would be applicable to young people who have completed their studies. This would allow the number of conscripts to be increased from the current 3,800 to 5,000 starting in 2027. The change would require proper preparation like training a larger number of instructors, revising military training programs, preparing the infrastructure for accommodation, and building new supply and training facilities for a more significant number of soldiers.
The goal of the proposed reforms was also named - to replenish the active personnel reserve of the Lithuanian Armed Forces as soon as possible, which currently has 27,000 soldiers. The Commander of the Lithuanian Armed Forces named the goal of having at least 40 thousand reserve soldiers, which should be achieved by 2030. Reserve soldiers are regularly called to the armed forces to refresh their skills; they can be called upon to provide assistance during emergency and emergency situations. According to the new reserve concept, it is envisaged that the reserve soldiers will maintain their readiness in the assigned units for the first five years, and for the next 10 years would update their knowledge in the training battalions. After the mobilization was announced, active army personnel reserve would be called into the Lithuanian Armed Forces first and they would fill units designed for the wartime and reserve forces.
The aforementioned proposals must be approved by the Lithuanian Parliament (Seimas) during the upcoming spring session. Many politicians agree with the proposals presented and consider this as necessary step to achieve greater security and as an initial stage for the preparation of compulsory conscription. Apprehensions are expressed about the quality of shortened military training, and the timely preparation of infrastructure - because the first priority in Lithuania is to host a German brigade. Suggestions are brought forward to increase the possibilities of performing alternative military service, and to increase the number of professional military service and volunteers.
Meanwhile, the majority of public warfare experts emphasize the need to increase the number of active reserves, but express fears that the proposed shortened training cycle will not have the expected effect, because in modern conflict success is determined by better-trained soldiers and the currently established 9-month conscript training cycle is already too short.
Experts suggest not following the examples of conscription models of some European countries (e.g., Finland, Switzerland), because the mentioned countries did not fight in a real war in the recent decades, like Israel, which is constantly at war, where military service lasts 2 or 3 years. It is emphasized that conditions must be created to raise the qualifications of professional military service soldiers. Experts note that in the case of mobilization in Lithuania, refresher courses and exercises should be held for reserve soldiers in order to better prepare them, not forgetting a needed full-fledged supply of reserve units with weapons and ammunition stocks.
Meanwhile, conscription into the army in Latvia, after its suspension in 2007, has been resumed since January of this year. The main motivation for implementing this model was the inadequacy of the current model based on a professional soldier for the current security situation and the need to strengthen the Latvian Armed Forces with equipped and prepared reserves, and to ensure a high state of readiness of the army in a short time. Conscription is voluntary and the service lasts for one year, including one month of vacation. In the initial phase, it will be aimed to recruit and train up to 1,200 conscripts, and later, after preparing the necessary infrastructure and in the event of compulsory conscription, up to 7,500 soldiers. It is planned that from 2027 mandatory conscription for men aged 18 to 27 will be introduced in Latvia. Women will be able to perform military service on a voluntary basis.
The Ministry of Defense of Latvia announced on the plans to increase the currently available 6,000 active army reserves to 20,000 within a five-year period. It should be noted that several forms of mandatory military service are possible in Latvia. The first is the already mentioned service in the Armed Forces, and the second - is by concluding a five-year contract with the Latvian National Guard (Zemessardze), according to which recruits must participate in 20 days of training per year. The third option will be introduced in 2024 – an alternative, civilian service that will be coordinated by several ministries (for example, the interior or health). And the fourth form is specialized military training of 50 days per year for students.
It is noticeable that when creating the motivational system and form for the conscript service in Latvia, and Estonia, the Finnish model was used. In Finland, compulsory military service lasts 165, 255, or 347 days, and there are several alternatives. Conscripts trained for normal duties serve 165 days, conscripts trained for special skills required duties serve 255 days, and conscripts aspiring to become commanders serve 347 days. Alternative service could last 255 or 347days.
The Estonian Armed Forces is also increasing the number of conscripts, but it is doing so very consistently. It is planned that 3,500 conscripts will be called this year, next year this number will increase to 3,800, and in 2025 it will reach 4,000. The Ministry of Defense of Estonia mentions that the long-term infrastructure development plans take into account the increase in the number of conscripts, so additional barracks are being built at the Ämari airbase, and additional costs are expected, e.g., it is estimated that an additional amount of 4 million euros will be needed to maintain 500 conscripts per year. It should be noted that the issue of the installation of additional ranges and shooting ranges is still being negotiated. It is expected that it will be necessary to consistently increase the number of instructors, which will be problematic because it is not desired to train instructors from soldiers who have just completed their initial service.
Increasing the number of conscripts has two goals: to prepare the necessary amount of reserve units, and to call up at least half of the young men suitable for military service. According to the law, conscript service in the Estonian army lasts 8 or 11 months, depending on the specialization being prepared. The eight-month training period covers most regular soldiers, while conscripts who train to be commanders, military vehicle drivers, communications, IT, or military police specialists serve 11 months. Furthermore, health requirements for conscripts have been reduced and a personalized approach to soldiers has been implemented, which allows for reducing the number of conscripts unfit for service.
Commander of the Estonian Armed Forces Lieutenant General Martin Herem in October 2022 stated that taking into account the changed security situation in the region in Estonia, military conscription should be extended to at least 12 months. The Commander hinted that at some point it may be necessary to extend this period even up to 18 months. The main argument for such a step is not the extension of the combat training cycle of soldiers, but the need to maintain the combat readiness of certain systems, i.e., conscript soldiers to be assigned to combat duty in the air or coastal defense units.
In 2022 the Estonian Armed Forces paid great attention to the formation of ground units from reserve soldiers. Reserve soldiers were allowed to choose the region and unit in which they wanted to serve. It is planned that by 2023 the Estonian Armed Forces will consist of 20 thousand reserve soldiers, and five-day training will be held for them in August and September. Reserve soldiers are invited to training once every five years. Interestingly, in 2022 in the week-long exercise "Okas 2022", which was aimed at updating the knowledge and skills of reserve soldiers, only 65 percent of those invited to the exercise gathered. The Commander of the Estonian Armed Forces was not satisfied with the results but mentioned that the rate of participation of Swiss and Finnish reserve soldiers in similar exercises is close to 60 percent.