The expectations were voiced by director of the Defence Ministry's Weaponry and Control Systems Department, Colonel Romualdas Petkevičius, after Germany's Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen confirmed Berlin's readiness to sell 12 self-propelled howitzers PzH 2000 to Lithuania.

"We want to move fast. In early May, our group of experts is going to Germany to discuss project details. I truly expect that we will get the first howitzers as early as next year," the colonel told BNS.

In his words, the German artillery systems "would significantly increase the Lithuanian army's combat power and the distance of fire effect". Petkevičius said the howitzers can fire at targets at a distance of 40-70km.

He refused to estimate the cost of the deal, expressing hope that it would be lower than the market price.

"I cannot make any forecasts until an agreement is reached. We, Lithuanians, and I personally like to negotiate," said Petkevičius.

After meeting in Vilnius earlier on Wednesday, Lithuanian and German defence ministers said that experts would open specific talks on the howitzers in May. The meeting should also address the possibility for Lithuania to purchase German armoured vehicles Boxer, although Vilnius has not yet made its final decision in this respect.

In sign of NATO collective defence commitments, Germany intends to send more than 500 troops to exercises in Lithuania this year.