Recently, Estonia and Latvia have jointly signed a monumental defense agreement with German arms manufacturer Diehl. The joint deal, valued at approximately 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion), is set to acquire the cutting-edge IRIS-T SLM (medium-range) air defense system.

This unprecedented development underscores the pressing need for enhanced air defense capabilities in the Baltic region, a concern magnified by recent geopolitical events, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A Historic Defense Investment

Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur celebrated the momentous occasion, stating:

“This is by far the biggest defense investment in Estonian history. Together with Latvia, almost 1 billion for their company is something we don’t see every day.”

The significance of this investment is underscored by the ever-present threat to security in the region.

The devastating conflict in Ukraine, with Russia’s invasion casting a long shadow, has emphasized the critical importance of robust air defense systems. Pevkur added, “Russia’s barbaric war in Ukraine has shown that air defense is critical to protect armed forces and critical infrastructure from air attacks.” This sentiment resonated strongly with the signing ceremony attendees and underscored the gravity of the situation.

The IRIS-T SLM: A Game-Changer in Air Defense

The IRIS-T SLM, at the heart of this momentous acquisition, is a formidable medium-range version of the IRIS-T SL (InfraRed Imaging System Tail Surface-Launched) air defense missile system designed and produced by the German company Diehl Defense. Renowned for its cutting-edge technology and versatility, this system offers comprehensive 360° protection against various threats, including aircraft, helicopters, cruise missiles, and guided weapons. What sets it apart is its ability to engage multiple targets simultaneously within incredibly brief reaction times.

Key features of the IRIS-T SLM include a launcher unit based on a MAN 8×8 truck chassis equipped with eight missile container launchers. In the firing position, these launchers are erected vertically at the rear of the truck. The missile itself is derived from the IRIS-T air-to-air guided missile, boasting a high-resolution infrared seeker with a wide field of view, enabling engagement at both close and very short ranges, as well as interception at greater distances.