In late summer, Latvia and Finland officially agreed on a deal for Riga to purchase more than 200 armored personnel carriers (APC) developed by the Finnish company Patria as well as the transfer of technological “know-how,” so that some of the 6×6 wheeled platforms that are part of the order will be manufactured in Latvia. According to the contract, signed on August 30, the first machines will already be at the disposal of the Latvian Land Forces in October 2021 (LSM, August 30).
Since the restoration of Latvia’s statehood, following the breakup of the Soviet Union, one of the weakest points for the Latvian army has been its lack of APCs. Upon joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), in 2004, Riga pledged to improve the mobility and tactical capabilities of its Land Forces. Yet to this day, Latvia remains the only NATO country in Central and Eastern Europe without a proper inventory of modern or proficient armored troop transports. Its Baltic neighbors, Estonia and Lithuania, have fielded such vehicles for years (Sargs.lv, April 12).
In 2014, Latvia bought 123 former British Army tracked combat and reconnaissance vehicles (CVR(T)) of the following models: FV107 Scimitar (combat reconnaissance vehicle armed with a with 30-millimeter gun), FV103 Spartan (armored personnel carrier), FV104 Samaritan (armored medical vehicle) and FV105 Sultan (command and staff vehicle). However, according to former officer of the Swedish Armed Forces Jörgen Elfving, Latvia’s CVR(T)s are obsolete and their role on the modern battlefield is questionable—particularly if pitted against the most likely Latvian adversary, the Russian Armed Forces. “In my understanding, the most urgent need of the Latvian army when it comes to buying wheeled armored personnel carriers is acquiring more capable vehicles. But are APCs the optimal solution? Such vehicles can carry the soldiers to the battlefield, but they can only support them to a limited extent. Therefore, a tracked combat vehicle, for example, the [Swedish] CV90, might be a better option,” Elfving commented this past spring (April 25), in an interview with this author.
The commander of the Latvian National Armed Forces (NAF), Lieutenant General Leonīds Kalniņš, admits that the military vehicles once purchased from the United Kingdom, while efficient, cannot ensure comparable mobility or speed of relocation of units as wheeled armored personnel carriers would. In addition, the tasks of tracked combat machines are different from those of wheeled APCs. “The main task of APCs is to move soldiers quickly and efficiently over much longer distances than can be offered by the existing combat vehicles that are at the NAF’s disposal. This automatically means more efficient planning of operations and national defense,” General Kalniņš explained (Diena.lv, April 12).
The machine to be developed for the Latvian and Finnish armies will be modern enough and offer a high level of armored protection to its crew and passengers. It will potentially be armed with machine guns, anti-tank weapons and grenade launchers already at the disposal of the NAF (Jauns.lv, April 12).
As was emphasized last June by Latvian Minister of Defense Artis Pabriks, this procurement will strengthen not only Latvia’s defense capabilities, but also the economy, as part of these vehicles will be manufactured domestically. Moreover, in the current geopolitical circumstances, the fact that the majority shareholder of Patria is the Finnish government is important. “It [the APC purchase agreement] also includes a mutual understanding of regional security and the sharing of potential threats,” the minister noted (Sargs.lv, June 29).
The Finish 6×6 APC purchased by Latvia has heretofore never been put into production; it is conceptually a new machine, although Patria had built similar models in the past. However, based on its technical parameters, the new armored vehicle should be especially suitable for Latvian conditions. The APC weigh 21 tons and is able to travel not only on land, but also on water. Recently, Patria’s prototype successfully concluded water trials in Finland, which tested the new platform’s maneuverability, maximum speed and water stability. “It is believed that this vehicle could operate safely and remain competitive for at least the next 30 years. We are exploring the possibility of exporting this platform to other countries in the future, not only Finland and Latvia,” said Uģis Romanovs, a member of the board of the local subsidiary Patria Latvia (Edruva.lv, June 7).
Currently, only Latvia and Finland are participating in this new 6×6 armored vehicle project, but Sweden has also shown interest in becoming involved. Estonia suspended its participation in the project after signing a letter of intent with Latvia and Finland; though it and any other allied countries still have the opportunity to join the procurement in the future (Sargs.lv, June 29). Latvian NAF commander Lieutenant General Kalniņš believes that Tallinn’s departure will not affect the development of this project. Indeed, the Estonian army already fields an older model of a Patria-produced armored vehicle (Sargs.lv, April 12). “Patria is a good step toward regional interoperability, and the Estonians also eventually will go for it,” predicted Colonel (ret.) Vaidotas Malinionis, a managing director of the Lithuanian National Defense Foundation. According to the expert, “The Problem now is with Lithuania—we also should get the Patria. Poland has Rosomak APCs, which are technically akin to the Patria[-produced vehicles]. Therefore, Lithuania is currently a ‘missing link’ to increased regional interoperability” (Author’s interview, April 25).
Alexandra M. Friede, a doctoral research assistant for the Chair of Political Science at the University of the Federal Armed Forces Hamburg, lauds the fact that the Patria APC project will simultaneously tackle the capabilities gap in Latvia’s defense posture as well as connect the Finnish and Latvian defense industries. Intensified cooperation in capabilities development and arms procurement is crucial to enhance Baltic Sea regional security, despite the recurring problems associated with such efforts (e.g., increased costs, delays). “APCs deploy infantry to theaters of operations more rapidly and are, thus, eminently important in any escalation scenario. The joint development of APCs by Finland and Latvia can contribute to improving operational planning, mobility and interoperability in the Baltic Sea region,” Friede contended (Author’s interview, April 26).
Indeed, the Latvian-Finnish arrangement demonstrates how to engage different partners across the Baltic in solvinging urgent armament issues with region-wide implications. The recently signed deal on APCs could serve as an example for the further development of regional defense synchronizations and cost sharing among NATO allies and partners, which is still insufficient in the vulnerable Baltic Sea region.