Current Affairs Military Politics

Playing With The Big Boys

CVR(T)s (Íomhá: WarIsBoring / Latvijas Armija)

The things the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation encourages its aspirant member states to do in order to play with the big boys. In the case of Latvia, with its tiny, largely part-time military, its the purchase of second-hand armoured vehicles from Britain, the first to be delivered by 2016. Why? Well ostensibly so the Latvians can contribute towards NATO’s common defense strategy in the Baltic states and the organisation’s growing ambitions for non-NATO deployments. Speed and mobility are seen as key to future extra-European missions which is where light armour comes into play such as the Latvians are now committed to (though one could argue that the Taliban have challenged that assumption through the very effective use of anti-vehicle IEDs in Afghanistan). Of course the sale is also a handy way for the British to eliminate the (expensive) costs involved in the storage or scrapping of surplus military equipment by dumping it onto someone else while making some money in the process (50 million euros with a significant amount of upgrading being carried by companies in Britain prior to delivery). From the guys at War Is Boring:

“The Latvian Ministry of Defense announced the transfer of 123 ex-British Army CVR(T) tracked armored vehicles on Feb. 27.

The CVR(T), or Alvis Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked) is now four decades old.

The CVR(T) was produced in a range of variants to fulfill different tasks with the Cold War British Army. Those currently in service with the British Army include the Scimitar, a light reconnaissance tank armed with a 30-millimeter RARDEN cannon, and also the Spartan, an armored personnel carrier capable of carrying four soldiers.

The exact breakdown of the future Latvian CVR(T) fleet is unclear. In a statement to the press, the British Ministry of Defense noted that the vehicles would “transport infantry, reconnaissance teams, air defense sections and mortar fire controllers as well as provide vital battlefield capabilities including ambulances, armored command vehicles and armored recovery vehicles.”

That suggests that Latvia will be getting Spartan, Samson, Sultan and Samaritan models. However, it seems likely that Scimitars—the most potent of the five current models—are also included.

For a tracked armored fighting vehicle, the Scimitar is relatively small. Its low ground pressure and diminutive size make it ideal for difficult terrain and confined areas—although neither of those is a particular concern in the Baltic region.

Just how useful will the British-made armor be for its new owner? Latvia, sandwiched between Lithuania to the south and Estonia to the north, is a small country—a little larger than West Virginia. Significantly, it shares a land border with Russia, as well as Moscow’s close military ally Belarus.

The Latvian National Armed Forces protect the country’s population of a fewer than 2 million. Within the LNAF, the Land Forces numbers only around 1,000 troops.

The acquisition of the CVR(T)s isn’t really meant to blunt a potential Russian military advance on Latvian soil. As a NATO member, Latvia has less to worry about in that regard than Ukraine does.

Rather, it’s a statement of intent for a country that’s in the process of bolstering its defensive firepower. It’s also a way of increasing Latvian participation in NATO exercises, the scale and tempo of which have increased in the region as the alliance sends out a message to the hawks in Moscow.”

Since the article implicitly recognizes that the CVR(T)s are of dubious military value in the face of Russian aggression I’m not sure how they would bolster Latvia’s “defensive firepower” or what message it sends out. A pretty weak one I suspect and Moscow knows it, the politics of a NATO confrontation to one side. The decades-old British armour, upgraded or not, would present little (for which you can read zero) challenge to regular forces armed with contemporary anti-rank weapons, vehicles or aircraft. So why waste the money?

Well one answer could be seen in the violent insurrection experienced in Ukraine over the last year. If the CVR(T)s have no defensive purpose on the front line in a conventional war they could well have a purpose in a non-conventional one, a war where the enemy lacked modern anti-tanks missiles, guns or air-support. The British vehicles would suit the sort of “internal security” or high intensity counter-insurgency operations we have seen Kiev carry out in eastern Ukraine since March. With 26% of the population of Latvia identifying themselves as “ethnic Russians” and a significant number classed by the Riga authorities as “non-citizens” the outside possibility of a future conflict in the Baltic state cannot be ruled out.

Hopefully Latvia’s spending spree will prove to be nothing more than a case of trying to keep up with the neighbors. Anything else would be very costly indeed and in more ways than one.

3 comments on “Playing With The Big Boys

  1. Latvia currently does not spend the required 2% of GDP on defence.
    That’s why the government is increasing military spending to finally meet the minimum that’s required by NATO (and also because we’re afraid of Russia).

    It’s unlikely that Putin would act the same way that he did in Ukraine.

    However he can still try to stir up a conflict that’s similar to the Troubles in NI.
    Latvia has the largest ethnic Russian population in the Baltics – easy for terrorists to blend in and recruit locals as well.
    The border also is not guarded very well – if contraband can get across – so can weapons.

    Also Harmony Centre – the party with most seats in the parliament are Putin’s puppets.
    If they do not get to form government coalition again – things could get ugly.

    • That’s why I suggested that the light armour was more geared towards (possible) internal security needs in Latvia than any real defensive military role or with NATO deployments globally. The CVR(T)s, tough though they are, would be vulnerable to most of the infantry-borne arms now available in places like Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, etc.

      Of course a well-armed insurgency at home supplied with Russian surplus stocks would be almost as dangerous. The Ukrainian military has lost numerous vehicles to anti-armour weapons since the conflict began.

      Personally I can’t see Putin going for it as far a Latvia is concerned unless he wants unbroken direct land-access to the Kaliningrad enclave via Latvia and Lithuania, by-passing his Belarus access. That gains Russia the valuable Baltic Sea ports, etc. but little else. And the price to be paid would be too heavy.

      • He wants revenge.
        He wants to show the world that Baltics are dysfunctional failed states run by fascists who oppress Russians.
        And that they should not have left the glorious Soviet empire who brought them culture in the first place.
        Russian propaganda has been repeating this bullshit ever since we regained independence.

        And many useful idiots in the west believe all that.

        So an armed conflict in the Baltics could be very beneficial to Russia.

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