Staff and structure of the armed forces

“The state is defended by the military action of the armed forces. The armed forces are: the Defence Forces, the National Defence League and militarily organised agencies and units in the area of government of the Ministry of Internal Affairs which are transferred to the subordination of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces during wartime (hereinafter other armed units) according to the War-Time National Defence Act” [PNDA]. Armed units also include the militarised units of the Border Guard and the Rescue Board.

Estonia’s armed forces are divided into regular units, rapid response units and reserve forces, and their organisational structure differs in peacetime and in wartime. Preparing the forces for war is the responsibility of peacetime headquarters, military units and agencies which provide training for the staff and the necessary resources. Their main task is the complete preparation and, if necessary, the formation of units for wartime. The transfer from one structure to another is carried out by way of mobilisation or demobilisation according to a multi-level system of readiness to defend. In wartime, the armed forces are mainly formed of units consisting of reservists.

The Defence Forces are a regular army which, during peacetime, consists of regular officers, regular non-commissioned officers, regular soldiers and armed forces officials employed on the basis of voluntary contracts; personnel consisting of conscripts is formed based on the universal obligation to serve in the armed forces. According to the Defence Forces Service Act, all persons aged 18-27 who are eligible to be drafted must serve military service of eight to twelve months. Women are not prohibited from serving in the army, their participation in active service is voluntary

During wartime, the Defence Forces are formed of all persons liable to service in the Defence Forces, based on a common duty to serve in the Defence Forces pursuant to the mobilisation plan. According to the Defence Forces Service Act, every male Estonian citizen between 16 and 60 years of age is liable to service in the Defence Forces [DFSA].

The Defence Forces consist of the three main types of service - the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. The Army is the largest and, from the perspective of national defence, the most important part of the Defence Forces. The Army consists of defence districts and special defence zones in the composition of which there may be single mechanised or infantry battalions, coast guard units, artillery units, anti-aircraft units, pioneer units, military intelligence units etc. and training centres where conscripts are prepared and training exercises for reservists carried out. During peacetime, base military units in the Army are battalions and battalion-size units. During wartime they will be formed into tactical troops - brigades.

The Air Force is responsible for all air operations in Estonia. The functions of the Air Force are air surveillance, air security, organising the air defence of objects and supporting the activities of the army. The Air Force includes air surveillance divisions which perform observation of the air space of the republic and which are integrated in the common system with the corresponding civil services, and aircraft, helicopters and antiaircraft units and an aviation base consisting of airfields and ancillary constructions.

The Navy is responsible for all naval operations in Estonia. The functions of the Navy are the preparation and organisation of the defence of the territorial waters and coast of the state, ensuring the security of maritime communications and sea traffic in the territorial waters and co-operation with NATO and the navies of other friendly countries around the Baltic Sea. The Navy includes units of patrol ships, and units of minesweepers and coast guard necessary to ensure the security of maritime communications lines and to establish and clear mine barriers, and a naval base.

The Defence Forces also comprise the necessary supporting and service units and organisations and training facilities. During peacetime the Defence Forces amount to 6500 persons, including 800 officers. In the event of war, the mobilised Defence Forces perform, together with the other components of the armed forces, the tasks of armed combat prescribed by total defence to the full extent.

The Defence League, a voluntary national defence organisation, is an important part of Estonia’s territorial defence system. The Defence League comprises fifteen regional units which include 8300 members in total plus special organisations for women and young people. These organisations include 8100 women, girls and boys in total. In the course of mobilisation, units of territorial forces called defence districts will be formed of the members of the Defence League, each commanded by a defence district commander.

Total defence is based on a carefully planned and prepared system of general mobilisation. “Mobilisation is the reorganisation of the armed forces, the state economy and institutions and the state's resources in order to guarantee the conduct of warfare” [GNDPE]. All the components of total defence are closely related to each other and form a comprehensive and integrated system.

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