2019.09.17 09:20

Lithuanian to meet 2 percent GDP defence spending this year, continue military modernisation

BNS 2019.09.17 09:20

The president-led Lithuanian State Defence Council proposed to borrow 30 million euros to meet NATO's 2 percent of GDP spending target this year and confirmed goals for the ongoing military modernisation.

"The State Defence Council decided to propose to borrow funds to supplement the 2019 appropriations for defence, as envisaged in the Law on Budget, in order to ensure 2 percent for defence in 2019," Jonas Vytautas Žukas, President Gitanas Nauseda's chief national security advisor, told reporters after the council's meeting on Monday.

Lithuania's defence budget stands at 948 million euros this year. It was estimated in late 2018 that this would account for 2.01 percent of GDP in 2019.

Based on the updated economic growth projections released last week, however, the amount would fall just short of 2 percent.

NATO's official figures show Lithuania failed to reach the 2 percent target last year.

The majority of Lithuanian parliamentary political parties have signed an agreement to gradually increase defence spending to reach 2.5 percent of GDP by 2030.

Six helicopters to be bought

The State Defence Council also agreed to "consistently continue the development of [defence] capabilities" through the acquisition of about 200 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles (JLTV) as well as six Western-made multi-purpose helicopters to replace Mi-8 type helicopters used for search and rescue operations. The country also considers buying two minehunters.

The council also gave the green light for Lithuania to continue to participate in all 11 military operations and missions in 2020 to 2021.

Lithuania will continue consultations with the US on its contribution to the Inherent Resolve mission against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, according to Žukas.

Lithuania is contributing troops to the mission in Iraq, but the US has also asked Lithuania to send soldiers to Syria.

Read more: Lithuania mulls US request to send troops to Syria – MoD 'considering all options'

"As regards Lithuania's specific contribution to this operation, close consultations will be held with the US and other allies of the aforementioned international operations and missions," Žukas said.

"Final decisions on Lithuania's participation will be made by the Seimas," he added.

The State Defence Council did not discuss on Monday the Defence Ministry's move to lower the age range at which men are called up for mandatory military service to between 18 and 23 years, from the current 19 to 26 years, but Žukas, a former chief of defence, described it as "a perfectly reasonable proposal".

Defence Minister Karoblis: €1b for defence next year

Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis says next year's defence budget will reach "just over a billion euros nominally, according to all plans".

Under the government's military procurement plan until 2030, a contract on the purchase of 200 JLTVs from the US is to be concluded by the end of 2019, possibly by late October. Lithuania has said it plans to spend 142 million euros on the acquisition.

According to Karoblis, Lithuania is also making inquiries about potential suppliers of the type of helicopters it wants to purchase. Its choice will depend not only on the price, but also on how many troops helicopters can accommodate and on how much it will cost to train pilots and engineers.

The Defence Ministry has launched a public procurement process to purchase a search and rescue vessel, with the winning bidder expected to be named this fall and all the procedures to be completed by 2022, the minister said.

Plans also call for purchasing used but more modern mine countermeasures vessels from allies in 2022-2024.

Read more: Lithuania’s new defence chief on modernization, independent battalions, conscription and Syria – key takeaways