Amphibious Assault as a Potential Threat to Estonia


  • Grigori Gavrilov



amphibious warfare, amphibious assault, maritime warfare, power projection, terrain analysis, opposing force studies


Estonia’s geopolitical location is the primary underlying factor dictating the country’s defence policy. Although all three Baltic states are connected to their fellow NATO allies in Europe via sea lines of communication, their only land connection with continental Europe is the vulnerable 65-kilometers long Suwałki Gap on the border between Lithuania and Poland. However, due to the physical geography of Estonia’s shoreline and rather considerable defi ciencies in the ability to defend its interests at sea, Estonia’s high value targets are exposed to amphibious assault. It is particularly alarming considering that the Russian Federation is in possession of a rather formidable naval force in the region and also maintains a rather large, although outmoded, amphibious force. Furthermore, Russia’s repeated attempts to modernise its amphibious fl eet indicate that the strategic utility of power projection from the sea is not lost upon Russia’s military and civilian leadership. Although there are few current sources on how Russian joint forces would conduct a contemporary amphibious assault, it is still possible to predict the most likely course of action due to the high dependence of its naval landing force on the technical features of their ships and vehicles. Considering that most of the hardware of Russia’s landing force is Soviet-made or Soviet-derived, it is likely that their tactics have not changed much. Thus, it is safe to presume that the Russian Federation would most likely conduct an amphibious landing by taking guidance from Soviet-era tactics deploying a combination of helicopter and ship-borne assault force up to brigade-size, comprising both naval infantry and motorized rifl e units. In such a scenario, the naval infantry would secure the beachhead in order to enable the main force to land and advance further inland. Consequently, it is paramount to survey the terrain in the area of interest from two aspects: (a) whether or not it supports the establishment of a beachhead of a predetermined size and (b) if that beachhead would allow for further inland advance. In case of armed confl ict, having a great number of vitally important targets that are not secured from a sea approach, facilitates swift advance on the part of the assaulting amphibious force, thus creating a fait accompli situation, which would be desirable from the Russian standpoint in case of a hypothetical conventional confl ict with the Baltic countries. The scenario described above, in conjunction with the fact that the Russian Federation still maintains a credible power projection capability from the sea, leads one to believe that the threat of amphibious assault against Estonia is not only technically possible but also operationally feasible


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