"It's a huge increase. It's a challenge to us as the number of people within the [military] system has not changed," said Defense Minister Raimonds Bergmanis, addressing the parliamentary Defense Committee as the Saeima was about to adopt next year's budget in the first reading.
Bergmanis stressed that all National Guards will get new equipment by late 2018, and that a new army unit in Latgale has almost been completed.
Almost 80% of the defense budget is to go to the National Armed Forces.
It is planned the army will receive 47 self-propelled howitzers from Austria next year. It is also planned to boost the number of National Guards to 13,000 from the current 8,000.
"This will be the most difficult task, as we know about the demographic situation in Latvia. It is difficult for us to compete with the private sector. But I see that we are quite successful at that. Lawmakers' help has ensured that 56 officers were able to return to the army," said Latvia's Defense Minister.
Latvia plans to significantly improve the Ādaži base where the NATO battalion is residing. A €13m complex for building a support building and field at the base is in the works for next year too.
A further €5.3m car park reconstruction is planned as well, while in the next two years two new barracks, each for 450 soldiers, are planned to be built as well. A huge sports complex worth €15m is planned at the base too.
Next year, Latvia and Lithuania will become the seventh and eight NATO member countries that are allocating at least 2% of the GDP for defense, the minimum spending recommended by the alliance.
Estonia has been among these member states for several years.
To reach the target, Latvia ramped up its defense spending very quickly - from about €250m in 2015 to €576m in 2018.
Politicians are evasive over increasing the defense budget above the 2% cap, however it is now prioritized that Latvia develop its own military-industrial complex and that the army accordingly buys as much equipment as it can from local companies.