An estimated 800 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division, an airborne infantry division of the United States Army, conducted an exercise in Estonia in the early hours of Saturday; the airborne exercise was designed to test the American rapid response defence of Estonia in case of a theoretical aggression by the Russian Federation.
The paratroopers parachuted to the Nurmsi Airfield in Estonia. The airfield was a Soviet Naval Aviation reserve airfield during the Soviet occupation of Estonia and is located 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) east of Paide in Nurmsi.
About half of the paratroopers made the 11-hour flight directly from Fort Bragg, North Carolina – where the division is based – while the another half, stationed in Lithuania, met up in the air with the rest to make the jump. The US Air Force’s massive C-17 Globemaster aircraft were used to take the paratroopers to the airborne mission in Estonia.
After they landed, the paratroopers joined with their respective units, collected their gear – which includes air-dropped vehicles, artillery and supplies – and then conducted “an assault” against Estonian soldiers acting as an opposition force.
The C-17s, in the meantime, landed in Estonia’s Ämari Air Base.
The airborne operation was organised as a part of Swift Response 2021 – an annual, large-scale US Army-led exercise designed to build strategic and operational readiness between the US, NATO and other European allies.
Swift Response is a part of the larger operation, Defender Europe 21 – a multi-national event that will take place until June. Led by the US, this year’s exercise involves 26 nations and 28,000 soldiers, testing operational readiness and interoperability between NATO allies and partners.
“It’s defensive in nature, focused on deterring aggression, while preparing our forces to respond to crisis and conduct large-scale combat operations if necessary,” the Pentagon press secretary, John F. Kirby, said on 3 May during a briefing at the Pentagon.
The 82nd Airborne Division specialises in parachute assault operations into denied areas with a US Department of Defense requirement to “respond to crisis contingencies anywhere in the world within 18 hours”. The division is the US Army’s most strategically mobile division.
Estonia joined NATO in 2004. In 2014 – after the Russian Federation invaded Crimea – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland asked the alliance to keep a beefed-up NATO troop presence in their countries. Since then, several Western allies have contributed troops as part of the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence. The NATO battlegroups are led by the UK in Estonia, Canada in Latvia, Germany in Lithuania and the US in Poland.
Cover: An estimated 800 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division conducted an exercise in Estonia in the early hours of 8 May 2021. Photo by Kaimar Tauri Tamm. Photos by Kaimar Tauri Tamm and Ardi Hallismaa/Estonian Defence Forces.