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Estonia, Latvia want to buy German Iris-T air defense system

May 21, 2023

Estonia and Latvia are planning to protect their airspace by buying a German Iris-T anti-aircraft missile systems. The system has already been used in combat in Ukraine.

 Two soldiers standing near a truck in the snow with military equipment on it
The Iris-T anti-aircraft defense system has already been delivered to UkraineImage: Air Force Ukraine

Two Baltic NATO members, Estonia and Latvia, are to begin negotiations to purchase the medium-range IRIS-T SLM defense system from its German manufacturer, Estonia's Defense Ministry said on Sunday.

Both countries, which border Russia, have greatly increased their defense budgets since Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February last year. Neither of the nations possesses an air force and both rely on NATO to patrol their airspace.

Deliveries of the system, manufactured by weapons maker Diehl Defence, could begin next year and possibly become operational in 2025.

What have Estonia and Latvia said?

If the deal goes ahead, it would be the biggest defense cooperation project ever concluded between Tallin and Riga, Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur said in a statement. The two nations hope to finalize the contract and make an official announcement by this summer.

Latvian Defense Minister Inara Murniece said that "our jointly selected medium-range air defense system will further secure the skies of Latvia and Estonia and will provide the maximum possible protection for our people, as well as civil and military infrastructure."

No details on the number of systems or on the price were revealed, but Pevkur indicated that the purchase would cost hundreds of millions of euros.

What is the IRIS-T system?

Each IRIS-T system consists of truck-mounted launchers, missiles, a radar unit and a separate command vehicle. 

It is designed to protect cities, armies and civilian populations from air attacks, being capable of defending against planes, helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles such as drones, cruise missiles and loitering munitions.  

It has an operational range of 40 kilometers (25 miles) and can attain an altitude of 20 kilometers.

Germany has sent several of the systems to Ukraine, where they have been used with success by the Ukrainian army against targets of the invading Russian forces, according to media reports.

tj/dj (AP, dpa, Reuters)