Latvian National Armed Forces
Latvijas Nacionālie bruņotie spēki
Emblem of the Latvian National Armed Forces
MottoVienotībā spēks
(English: "Power in unity")
Founded10 July 1919; 105 years ago (1919-07-10)
Current form23 August 1991; 32 years ago (1991-08-23)
Service branches
HeadquartersRiga, Latvia
PresidentEdgars Rinkēvičs
Minister of DefenceAndris Sprūds
Commander of the Joint HeadquartersLieutenant General Leonīds Kalniņš[1]
Military age18
Active personnel17,250[3]
Reserve personnel38,000[4]
Budget€1.13 billion (2024)[5]
Percent of GDP2.4% (2024)[5]
Related articles
RanksMilitary ranks of Latvia

The Latvian National Armed Forces (Latvian: Latvijas Nacionālie bruņotie spēki), or NBS, are the armed forces 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.[6]


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:


See also: Military history of Latvia during World War II

War of Independence, peacetime (1919–1940)

The Latvian armed forces were first formed soon after the new state was proclaimed in November 1918 after World War I, with the official founding of the Latvian Armed Forces [lv] (Latvian: Latvijas Bruņotie spēki) on July 10, 1919, when the North Latvian [lv] and South Latvian Brigade [lv], which were loyal to the Latvian Provisional Government, were merged. Seasoned general Dāvids Sīmansons was appointed as the first Commander-in-Chief. At the end of the Latvian War of Independence, the Latvian Army consisted of 69,232 men.

The North Latvian Brigade in mid-1919

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 individual equipment, the standard helmet were surplus M1916/18 Stahlhelms or Adrian helmets.[7][8]

Latvian soldiers in Liepāja in November 1920

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 1930s 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, a Carden Loyd tankette, seven armoured cars and 24 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 30 fighter planes and 24 scout planes, of which only some were the relatively modern Gloster Gladiator fighters, 24 training and 6 seaplanes. 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.[9] The Armed Forces were also supported by the volunteer Aizsargi Organization.

World War II and the occupation of the Baltic states (1939–1991)

Latvian Army Garford-Putilov armored car "Kurzemnieks", 1920s

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. [9]

After the Soviet occupation of Latvia in June 1940, during which the armed forces did not intervene following orders, 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 1980 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.[10] During and after World War II, many former veterans were a part of the fighters of the anti-Soviet National Partisan resistance movement opposing the continued Soviet occupation.

After restoration of independence (1991–present)

Latvian soldiers during the NATO exercise "Trident Juncture 2015"

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. From the beginning, the reconstituted defense forces were modeled according to NATO standards with assistance from the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden etc.

A notable moment in the history of the armed forces is the accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on 29 March 2004, after Latvia received a Membership Action Plan in 1999 and, ultimately, an invite was extended to it and six other countries during the 2002 Prague summit.[11] Previously, Latvia co-founded the North Atlantic Cooperation Council in 1991 and joined the Partnership for Peace program in 1994.[12]

Since the 1990s, personnel of the NAF has been deployed to a number of peacekeeping, training and support missions – the NATO Stabilisation Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina (SFOR) from 1996 to 2004; the Kosovo Force (KFOR) from 2000 to 2009; the NATO training mission in Iraq (NTM-I) from 2005 to 2006, the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from 2003 to 2015, the Resolute Support Mission from 2015 to 2021 and others.[12][13]

Cap badge of the field uniform

In 2007, Latvia abolished conscription, switching to a professional, volunteer-based service model.[14] However, after the start of the Russo-Ukrainian War in 2014, calls for reintroducing mandatory military service reappeared, with the full invasion of Ukraine by Russia in 2022 being a decisive boost to this momentum, despite initial skepticism from the top leadership in the NAF and the Ministry of Defence.[15] In July 2022, Defence Minister Artis Pabriks announced a plan for the re-introduction of military service – officially called the National Defense Service (Latvian: Valsts aizsardzības dienests, VAD) – first on a voluntary basis and then in compulsory form at a later date for males aged 18–27, starting from January 2023.[16] The Government of Latvia supported the plan in September, with the next required step being the approval of the Saeima. The Cabinet also supported the proposed transitional period from 2023 to 2028, that the length of the service would be 10 months and that service can be postponed until 26 years of age. Alternative service options would involve serving in a National Guard unit on a part-time basis for 5 years; civil service for those unfit for military service due to health or special military courses for students.[17]


Structure of the Latvian Armed Forces, 2019

The National Armed Forces consist of:

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


Latvian Army Staff Battalion color guard at Bastille Day military parade, 2014

See also: Ranks and insignia of the Latvian National Armed Forces

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.[6] By the end of 2017, there were 7900 registered reserve soldiers, of whom about 5000 were retired professional soldiers. According to the National Defence Concept, the National Armed Forces are to maintain 25000 militarily trained personnel, including 6500 professional soldiers, 8005 National Guards and 3010 (trained) reserve soldiers. Reserve training began in 2015.[18][19]


On April 5, 2023, Latvia decided to re-introduce compulsory national defense service in response to the ongoing Russian invasion in Ukraine.[20]

The first voluntary conscription will begin on July 1, 2023, and volunteers must apply by May 15, 2023. The law foresees two types of service: military and alternative (civil service). Males born after January 1, 2004, are subject to mandatory service, while males and females aged 18 to 27 can apply voluntarily. The law exempts certain individuals, including those whose health status does not comply with service requirements, sole guardians of children, sole caretakers of dependents, and those who have served in a different country if they have dual citizenship.[21][20]

During the autumn conscription of 2023, as of 14 November, only 170 people volunteered for service, which means that to reach a thousand by 1st of December, it may will be necessary to use the principle of random selection for the autumn draft in order to recruit the required number of people.[22]


International cooperation

Latvian Army 2nd battalion soldier in Iraq, 2006

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 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[23]
Mali Mali EU EUTM Mali 4
Mali Mali UN MINUSMA 1
Kosovo Kosovo NATO KFOR RC-E 133
Somalia Somalia EU Operation Atalanta 2
Iraq Iraq CJTF Operation Inherent Resolve 1


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.

List of military equipment

Main article: List of equipment of the Latvian Land Forces


  1. ^ "NBS Vadība". Archived from the original on 24 February 2018. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  2. ^ "Compulsory military service to be re-introduced in Latvia".
  3. ^ "Par mums | Nacionālie bruņotie spēki".
  4. ^ "Par mums | Nacionālie bruņotie spēki".
  5. ^ a b "Aizsardzības nozares budžets | Aizsardzības ministrija".
  6. ^ a b "Fact sheet "Latvian National Armed Forces" (2018)". Retrieved 6 August 2018.
  7. ^ Dambītis, Kārlis (2016). Latvijas armijas artilērija 1919.-1940.g.: Vieta bruņotajos spēkos, struktūra un uzdevumi [Artillery of the Latvian Army (1918–1940): structure, tasks and place in the Armed forces] (PhD thesis). University of Latvia. p. 178, 230.
  8. ^ MA, S. Kiersons (2012-06-23). Boys of the Dvina - Latvia's Army 1918-1940. pp. 62, 63. ISBN 978-1-300-01591-8.
  9. ^ a b Andersons, Edgars (2006). Armed Forces of Latvia and their historical background . Riga: Daugavas Vanagi. p. 520. ISBN 9984794555.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ "NATO Update: Seven new members join NATO - 29 March 2004". Retrieved 2022-02-06.
  12. ^ a b "Latvia and NATO | Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Latvia". Archived from the original on 2022-02-16. Retrieved 2022-02-06.
  13. ^ "Latvia to maintain troop presence in Afghanistan and Iraq". 2019-01-22. Retrieved 2022-02-06.
  14. ^ ERR, LSM, ERR | (2022-07-06). "Latvia to establish new military base, reinstate conscription". ERR. Retrieved 2022-10-14.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ "Latvian army commander does not support mandatory service". 2022-02-02. Retrieved 2022-10-14.
  16. ^ "Latvia plans new military base, return of compulsory national service". 2022-07-05. Retrieved 2022-10-14.
  17. ^ "Government supports return of mandatory military service in Latvia". Retrieved 2022-10-14.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ "The National Defence Concept". Riga. 2016. Retrieved 6 August 2018.
  20. ^ a b "Latvia reintroduces compulsory military service – DW – 04/07/2023". Retrieved 2023-04-12.
  21. ^ "Compulsory military service to be re-introduced in Latvia". Retrieved 2023-04-12.
  22. ^ "Всего 170 добровольцев: в третий призыв в армию могут начать призывать и тех, кто не хочет". (in Russian). Retrieved 2023-11-14.
  23. ^ "Pašreizējās operācijas".