The Baltic states compose of 3 small countries: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. These countries have small economies and can economically not afford a large standing navy, especially when the armed forces of these countries are all focused on the army and how to deter Russia.
All three countries have a focus on mine countermeasure (MCM) warfare. As a part this task has been historically since the Baltic Sea is covered with sea mines from both World Wars and the Cold War. In a more modern approach MCM has the current relevance in keeping the Baltic ports open for both trade as well as an economic window with the western world. The ports also serve as points of debarkation for EU and NATO forces in case of any crisis.
Only Lithuania and Latvia have the capability to patrol their coastal waters with special patrol boats. Both countries operate modular ships in an attempt to increase their operational capabilities.
In general it is clear that the Baltic navies can keep their own waters free of mines but when it comes to powerfully enforcing their own sovereignity in their coastal waters and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) then these countries require the aid and protection of frigates and destroyers, supplied by other EU navies.
The Estonian navy is mainly focused on minesweeping and mine hunting. Since the Baltic Sea is covered with sea mines from both World Wars and the Cold War this is not a surprise. At the same time the port of Tallinn is the only major port in Estonia and both the port as its approaches can be blocked by sea mines.
The Estonian Navy has therefore in the past 10 years made a strong contribution to the Standing NATO Mine Countermeasure Groups (SNMCMG). It has also taken part in several operations aimed to integrate the maritime forces in the Baltic Region as well as cooperation with other EU and NATO partners. These operations include BALTOPS, Open Spirit and Northern Coasts.
The Estonian navy only operates 5 different ships. The main units are the 3 minehunters of the British Sandown class. These ships were laid down in 1988, 1990 and 1992 and transferred to the Estonian Navy between 2006-2009. Although these ships are 26 to 20 years old they still have an expected life service for another 10 to 15 years, depending on the wear and tear and quality of the maintenance. Still, around the 2025 timeframe the Estonian navy will be forced to start looking for replacements.
|Admiral Cowan: one of three Estonian minehunters|
Also in service with the Estonian navy are the two Danish build diving ships that are part of the mineships division of the Estonian Navy. These two ships of the Lindormen class are built in 1977 and transferred in 2006 and 2009 to the Estonian Navy. One of these ships is currently in reserve. The author didn’t managed to get any details about these two ships but these ships, given their age of 37 years, are also in need of replacement in the next coming years.
Just like Estonia, Latvia has a focus on mine countermeasure warfare although it also operates a small contingent of (coastal) patrol boats. Unlike the Estonian navy sole focus on MCM operations, the Latvian navy is tasked with blocking harbors and shipping routes in case of crisis as well as providing control, surveillance and intelligence of inner and territorial waters and the economic zone, and providing Coast Guard functions.
The major units in the Latvian navy are the 5 tripartite minehunters it received from the Dutch Navy in the 2007-2011 timeframe. These are the same class of minehunters that are also in use by the Dutch, Belgian and French navy. Build in 1984, these vessels are currently 30 years old. Given the fact that both the Dutch as the Belgian navy are planning to replace these vessels in their own navies around the 2020 timeframe then one can expect that Latvia will follow this move and start looking for new minehunters around the 2020-2025 timeframe.
The 5 patrol boats of the Skrunda class form the other major part of the Latvian navy. These ships are aimed to patrol the coastal waters and enforce Latvian law such as fisheries inspections, search and rescue, sovereignty enforcement and other tasks. Build between 2009 and 2013 these are the most modern ships in the Latvian navy. These ships are also capable to carry a mission module the size of a 20ft ISO container and a weight up to 6 tons. This allows each ship to carry a mission module tailor made for each type of mission ranging up from weapon systems, hydrographic survey or even supporting equipment for divers.
|Skrunda class patrol boats|
The Virsaitis class minelayer dates back from 1978 and was transferred from Norway to the Latvian navy in 2003. The ship currently serves as the command and support vessel although it is still capable of performing the task of lying mines.
The Varonis dates back from 1973 and entered service in 2004 after having served in the Dutch navy and serves now as a logistics and training vessel.
The main element of the Lithuanian navy are the 3 ships of the Danish Flyvefisken class patrol vessels, also known as the Standard Flex 300 class. These ships were transferred to the Lithuanian navy in the 2008-2010 timeframe. Although these ships are built between 1985 and 1995 they are still in a good condition. The main advantage of the Standard Flex 300 is that it is capable of carrying mission modules in containers, allowing these ships to change their roles in a 48 hour timeframe. These ships can either be used for surveillance and combat against light enemy warships or to perform MCM or minelaying operations. They even have the capability to carry Harpoon missiles and light weight torpedo’s.
|P12 Dzukas: a Standard Flex 300 patrol boat|
Like it’s two Baltic neighbors, the Lithuanian navy also has a MCM capacity that is currently in the process of being upgraded. The two Lindau class minesweepers dating back from 1957 are replaced by two Hunt class minehunters from the Royal Navy. However, these two ships will be in need of replacement in the 2020-2025 timeframe given the fact that they date back from 1982 and are already 32 years old. Nevertheless is the transition from minesweeping to minehunting already a big improvement for the Lithuanian navy. Before these two minehunters were delivered they underwent upgrades both in sonar, weapons as machinery.