Latvia to spend tens of millions on creating a 'drone army'

The Latvian National Armed Forces (NBS) will develop its drone technology capability by investing 20 million euros, Minister of Defense Andris Sprūds (Progressives) announced to journalists on Monday, May 27.

"Seeing the importance of drones in warfare and guided by Ukraine's experience, we can announce the launch of the Drone Capability Initiative this year. We can metaphorically talk about building a drone army," Sprūds said.

This means that Latvia will not only supply Ukraine with drones as part of the 'Drone Coalition' international initiative that it leads alongside the United Kingdom, but it will even more actively implement these technologies in its own National Armed Forces (NBS).

Within the framework of the drone coalition, this year up to 20 million euros will be invested in support of Ukraine, and a similar amount will also be invested in developing domestic drone capacity to provide the NBS with drones.

These 20 million euros include both the creation of infrastructure and the purchase of drones, including from Latvian companies, worth at least 10 million euros.

It is planned that at the beginning of June, a drone testing site will start operating at the new 'Selija' military base and ranges.

In the coming days, there will also be a 24-hour innovation hackathon, for which around 20 teams have applied to take part and where it is hoped the ideas could be further developed in specific technologies. Also, a tender for grant projects worth 600,000 euros has been announced which closes June 21, the minister said.

In addition, drone pilot training will be provided at various levels – in the National Defense Service, Youth Guard, Colonel Oskars Kalpaks Vocational High School, as well as within the framework of national defense training.

"We are strengthening the overall [drone] ecosystem and at the same time our own industry capable of innovatively creating, developing and delivering these technologies both to our armed forces and in support of Ukraine," Sprūds said.

When asked if the announcement is related to the planned "drone wall" that will include Norway, Poland, Finland, and the Baltic states, Sprūds emphasized that Latvia started developing drones even before this announcement. The drone coalition formed by Latvia in support of Ukraine was also created last year. 

"We will consider the details that lie beneath this proposal, but that does not prevent us from moving forward with the development of our own drone capabilities. This year will be a major breakthrough," the minister promised.

Also, the commander of the NBS, Lieutenant General Leonids Kalniņš, emphasized that the creation of the drone army is a powerful force in achieving tactical goals. At the same time, he pointed out that "drones did not come to us on February 24, 2022 [with Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine], they entered the military field already 20 years ago."

The NBS started introducing drone technologies in 2007, gradually developing them since. Drones, according to Kalniņš, replace very expensive equipment related to heavy artillery, missile systems and aviation, which many countries cannot afford. Also, drones help in reconnaissance.

"The most important thing is why drones are needed and why national drones: it is a matter of national defense over the long term, so that we are not dependent on suppliers, but promote our combat capabilities and local industry," the NBS commander stated.

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