Latvian National Armed Forces

The Latvian National Armed Forces (Latvian: Latvijas Nacionālie bruņotie spēki) are the armed forces of the Republic of Latvia. Latvia's defense concept is based on a mobile professional rapid response force and reserve segment that can be called upon relatively fast for mobilization should the need arise. The National Armed Forces consists of Land Forces, Naval Forces, Air Force and National Guard. Its main tasks are to protect the territory of the State; participate in international military operations; and to prevent threats to national security.[4]

Latvian National Armed Forces
Latvijas Nacionālie bruņotie spēki
Emblem of the Latvian National Armed Forces
MottoVienotībā spēks (Power in unity)
FoundedJuly 10, 1919; 102 years ago (1919-07-10)
Current formAugust 23, 1991; 29 years ago (1991-08-23)
Service branchesLand Forces
Naval Forces
Air Force
National Guard
PresidentEgils Levits
Minister of DefenceArtis Pabriks
Commander of the Joint HeadquartersLieutenant general Leonīds Kalniņš[1]
Military age18
Active personnel14,700 (6,500 professionals, 8,000 National Guard)[2]
Reserve personnel3,000[2]
Deployed personnelSee current operations
Budget€ 707,82 million ($853.84 million) (2021)[3]
Percent of GDP2.0% (2021)[3]
Related articles
HistoryLatvian war of independence
Latvian partisans
2001 war in Afghanistan
Iraq War
Kosovo Force
Operation Atalanta
EU Navfor Med
Operation Inherent Resolve
Operation Resolute Support
RanksMilitary ranks of Latvia


The mission of the National Armed Forces (NAF) is to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the nation and to defend its population against foreign or domestic armed aggression. In order to implement these tasks, the NAF provide for the defence of the nation, its air space and national territorial waters, participate in large scale crisis response operations, perform emergency rescue operations, and participate in international peacekeeping operations.

The main mission of the National Armed Forces is to:

  • Provide for the inviolability of all national territory, its waters and air space;
  • Participate in international operations;
  • Participate in national threat elimination;
  • Provide for the training of personnel and military reserves.
  • Ensure modernization and enhancement of professional combat training;


The Latvian armed forces were first formed soon after the new state was proclaimed in November 1918 after World War I. At the end of the Latvian War of Independence (1918-1920), the Latvian Army consisted of 69,232 men.

In terms of equipment, the Latvian military during its first independence period (1919-1940) was armed mostly with British weapons and gear. The average Latvian infantry soldier in the 1930s is believed to have carried 31,4 kg of equipment in the winter months, and around 29,1 kg in the summer. The main service rifle was the British Pattern 1914 Enfield, and the amount of standard issue ammunition for an infantry soldier was 45 rounds of .303 (7,7mm) caliber. In addition, troops had access to three different types of hand grenades (defense, attack and rifle grenades). The Latvian Army had acquired a wide variety of machine guns in different calibers, through various means: trophies acquired from hostile forces during the War of Independence, allied donations and subsequent official state purchases. Light machine guns included the French Chauchat, Danish Madsen, and British Lewis gun (which became the main light machine gun of the Latvian Army). The main heavy machine gun was the British Vickers machine gun in the .303 (7,7mm) caliber, although the army also kept Russian PM M1910 machine guns in reserve. In general, the Latvian Army lacked automatic weapons of all calibers, and the ones it did have were becoming increasingly outdated towards the start of World War II (most of the weapons in service were from World War I). In terms of heavy weapons, the Latvian military had acquired a rather large number of different artillery systems in different calibers, around 400 artillery pieces in total (although most of these were outdated and worn out due to heavy use and age). The main artillery gun for infantry support was the British Ordnance QF 18-pounder field gun and British QF 4.5-inch howitzer, although there were also several types of French, German and Russian artillery guns in reserve. For anti-tank weapons, in 1938 the army received the Austrian 47 mm Cannone da 47/32 anti-tank cannons, which were reasonably effective against early World War II tanks. For infantry mortars, a number of 81mm mortars were acquired from Finland some time around the late 1930s, but it is unclear how many were delivered and in service at the start of World War II.

In terms of vehicles, the Latvian military was seriously lacking in motorized transport, and thus had to rely mostly on railroads and horse-drawn carriages for most of its logistics needs. The military leadership did make an effort to solve this problem at the end of the 1930's by purchasing a small number of cars, trucks, artillery tractors and motorbikes, but at the start of World War II, only a small portion of the Latvian military had access to motorized vehicles. In terms of armoured vehicles, the Latvian military had six armoured trains, 18 units of Carden Loyd tankettes, six armoured cars and 27 tanks of various designs and combat abilities. In terms of air power, at the start of World War II the Latvian Air Force had around 52 fighter planes and 48 scout planes, of which only 25 were the relatively modern Gloster Gladiator fighters. Thus, the Latvian military during the interwar era was more or less comparable both in equipment and size to its other Baltic neighbours, such as Estonia, Lithuania and Finland.[5]

However, the most crucial problem and flaw for both the Latvian military and other militaries of the Baltic states on the eve of World War II had to do with the failure to organize effective military cooperation between all the Baltic states in case of a new war in the region. The Latvian command in the interwar period had given very little attention towards any possible coordination of forces with either the Estonian or Lithuanian armies against a possible enemy, and so the Latvian military planned its actions and doctrine in almost complete isolation, oblivious to whatever its neighbours to the north (Estonia) or south (Lithuania) did. This ultimately led to flawed and questionable choices in creating defense plans against both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union (there were separate plans towards both of these possible aggressors), since the Latvian higher command was unsure as to how Latvia's neighbours would react in the event such a conflict started. [5]

After the Soviet occupation of Latvia in June 1940, the annihilation of the Latvian Army began. The army was first renamed the People's Army of Latvia (Latvian: Latvijas Tautas armija) and in September–November 1940 the Red Army's 24th Territorial Rifle Corps. The corps comprised the 181st and 183rd Rifle Divisions. In September the corps contained 24,416 men but in autumn more than 800 officers and about 10,000 instructors and soldiers were discharged. The arrests of soldiers continued in the following months. In June 1940, the entire Territorial Corps was sent to Litene camp. Before leaving the camp, Latvians drafted in 1939 were demobilised, and replaced by about 4,000 Russian soldiers from the area around Moscow. On June 10, the corps' senior officers were sent to Russia where they were arrested and most of them shot. On June 14 at least 430 officers were arrested and sent to Gulag camps. After the German attack against the Soviet Union, from June 29 to July 1 more than 2080 Latvian soldiers were demobilised, fearing that they might turn their weapons against the Russian commissars and officers. Simultaneously, many soldiers and officers deserted and when the corps crossed the Latvian border into the Russian SFSR, only about 3,000 Latvian soldiers remained.[6]

The origin of the current Latvian armed forces can be traced to the establishment of the Latvian National Guard or Zemessardze on August 23, 1991, which served as the first organized defence force after the restoration of the independence of Latvia. Unlike other Soviet republics, it is one of the military forces in the Baltic states that were not formed from the Baltic Military District. A notable moment in the history of the armed forces is the accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 2004.


Structure of the Latvian Armed Forces, 2019

National Armed Forces consist of:

The Security Service of Parliament and State President was a part of the National Armed Forces until its merger with the Military Police in 2009.


Latvian National Armed Forces consist of the Regular Force, National Guard and Reserve. On January 1, 2007, conscription was abolished and since then the Regular Force consists of only professional soldiers. Recruits must be 18 years of age or older. As of June 2018, there were 5500 active duty soldiers, 8000 national guards.[4] By the end of 2017, there were 7800 registered reserve soldiers, of whom about 5000 were retired professional soldiers. According to the National Defence Concept, the National Armed Forces are to maintain 17500 militarily trained personnel, including 6500 professional soldiers, 8000 National Guards and 3000 (trained) reserve soldiers. Reserve training began in 2015.[7][8]


International cooperation

Along with providing for national defence, the NAF will also react immediately to threats to other allies and to international crises.

Latvia cooperates with Estonia and Lithuania in the joint infantry battalion BALTBAT and naval squadron BALTRON which are available for peacekeeping operations.

Currently, NATO is involved in the patrolling and protection of the Latvian air space as the Latvian military does not have the means to do so. For this goal a rotating force of four NATO fighters, which comes from different nations and switches at two or three month intervals, is based in Lithuania to cover all three Baltic states (see Baltic Air Policing).

Current operations

Deployment Organization Operation Personnel[9]
Somalia EU Operation Atalanta 1
Mali EU EUTM Mali 3
Afghanistan NATO Operation Resolute Support 40
Libya EU EU Navfor Med 1
Iraq CJTF Operation Inherent Resolve 6


Latvian National Armed Forces soldiers during the exercise “Silver Arrow 2017”

After joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Latvia has undertaken obligations to strengthen common defence within the scope of its capabilities. For this purpose, every NATO member state delegates its military formations — fast response, well-armed and well-equipped units capable to operate beyond the NATO's borders.

After joining NATO, the foundation of the Latvian defence system has shifted from total territorial defence to collective defence. Latvia has acquired small but highly professional troop units that have been fully integrated into NATO structures. NAF soldiers have participated in international operations since 1996. Specialized units (e.g. units of military medics, military police, unexploded ordnance neutralizers, military divers and special forces) have been established in order to facilitate and enhance NAF participation in international operations. Special attention has been paid to establishing a unit to deal with the identification and clearance of nuclear pollution. The successful participation of Latvian soldiers in international exercises, operations and missions demonstrates that their professional skills already comply with the performance requirements set by the Alliance.


  1. "NBS Vadība". Archived from the original on 24 February 2018. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  2. IISS 2019, p. 124.
  4. "Fact sheet "Latvian National Armed Forces" (2018)". Retrieved 6 August 2018.
  5. Andersons, Edgars (2006). Armed Forces of Latvia and their historical background . Riga: Daugavas Vanagi. p. 520. ISBN 9984794555.
  6. Bleiere, Daina; Ilgvars Butulis; Antonijs Zunda; Aivars Stranga; Inesis Feldmanis (2006). History of Latvia : the 20th century. Riga: Jumava. p. 327. ISBN 9984-38-038-6. OCLC 70240317.
  7. Īvāns, Ansis (20 December 2017). "'2% no IKP: Kā mūs aizsargās?' No 8 tūkstošiem rezerves karavīru trīs gados iemaņas atjaunojuši 357". (in Latvian). Retrieved 6 August 2018.
  8. "The National Defence Concept". Riga. 2016. Retrieved 6 August 2018.
  9. "Pašreizējās operācijas".