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.