BMP-2M going for fifty

Few post-war armoured vehicles can rival the fame of the BMP-1/2 family. While the tanks of the Soviet armoured groups changed rather dramatically during the cold war, the classic lines of the BMP was a mainstay of the operational manoeuvre groups poised to fight their way through the Fulda Gap from their introduction in the mid-sixties up until the fall of the Soviet Union, and onwards to this very day.

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US educational poster from the Cold War showing the Soviet ‘Big 7’. Note the BMP-1 being described as providing “Mobility, firepower and troop protection excellent by U.S. standards”. Source: DoD via Wikimedia Commons

It isn’t hard to realise how this came to be. The vehicle was the first true modern infantry fighting vehicle, being able not only to transport the infantry to the battlefield, but to stay in the fight and provide supporting fire to the infantry squads once they had dismounted. As was typical for Soviet armoured vehicles, it featured a very low profile and proved to be both rugged and reliable. It was also one of the first combat vehicles to offer full NBC-protection, meaning that it could (in theory at least) fight its way through chemical weapons and radioactive fallout likely to be encountered on the battlefield of WWIII. The introduction of the modernised BMP-2 solved one of the main issues with the BMP-1, namely its outdated 2A28 73 mm low-pressure gun. This weapon sported comparable performance to the SPG-9 recoilless-rifle (video from Ukraine showing its use), but the continued increase in protection of NATO AFV’s and longer range of their weapon systems meant that it became increasingly doubtful if the BMP-1 would 1) be able to close within firing range and 2) whether the HEAT-round would cause any significant damage.

The solution was to fit a larger turret with a more modern weapons suite, the main weapon now being the 30 mm 2A42 autocannon, with heavy anti-tank firepower being provided by the 9M111 Fagot (PstOhj 82) and 9M113 Konkurs (PstOhj 82M) SACLOS-guided anti-tank missiles. The missile system could also be dismounted for use by the infantry squad carried. A number of other changes, most relatively minor, were also made, and so the ultimate Soviet IFV was born.

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The original BMP-1 still soldier on in many parts of the world. Here a vehicle takes part in the fighting over Donetsk International Airport in Ukraine two years ago. Source: Mstyslav Chernov/Wikimedia Commons

Finland bought both BMP-1 and BMP-2 in significant numbers, these being the most advanced and modern vehicles available to transport and support our panssarijääkärit in battle. The original TOE had the infantry units riding in the BMP-1, which due to its smaller tower fit a full squad of eight in the rear compartment, while the recon infantry and anti-tank units rode in the BMP-2, which only allowed for six passengers. But even the most successful of designs will not last forever. By now, the BMP-1 (with exception of specialised vehicles based on it) has been retired, and the BMP-2 has seen some modest modifications. These include the removal of the anti-tank missile system (due to the shelf-life of the missiles expiring), and the fitting of lighter side skirts made of sheet metal instead of the original flotation devices. The BMP has also been complemented by the significantly more modern Swedish CV9030 in service, and more than one observer probably expected the BMP-2 to slowly follow its bigger brother the T-72 into the melting pot, with more CV9030’s to replace it. This, however, was not to be.

Back in 2013, the Finnish authorities ordered technology demonstrators from two Finnish companies. The goal of this project was to see if the BMP-2 could be modified to meet the demands of the modern battlefield. Two key areas were the ability to operate at night without the use of the active infra-red searchlight, and reducing the heat signature of the vehicle. The original layout of the BMP means that the hot exhaust gases are blown straight upwards, a solution not uncommon in the days before thermal sights became commonplace. This, however, leads to a very high heat signature.

After comparative trials, the configuration suggested by Conlog Oy was chosen as the basis for the new BMP-2M/MD. A brief note on the designations: the current project feature two different communication suites, with the resulting vehicle being designated either -2M or -2MD depending on which of these are fitted. As this difference is purely internal, all updated IFV’s are usually referred to as simply BMP-2M, a designation also used for a number of other BMP-2 modernisation packages around the world. The modernised vehicle was first displayed to a wider audience at a special demonstration showing off a number of the Army’s newest fighting vehicles in August 2015, at the same time that the first Finnish Leopard 2A6 was unveiled. Externally the main difference is the Berberys-R multi-spectral camouflage from the Polish company Miranda. In layman’s terms, this is a highly advanced camo net, reducing not only the visual footprint, but the heat, IR, and radar signature as well. The net comes in pre-cut pieces, and allows for full movement of the turret and all other movable parts.

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The modernised BMP-2M showing of its Berberys camouflage system, new sights atop the 30 mm gun, raised wire-cutter, and the storage boxes mounted externally on the rear part of the hull. Source: Maavoimat

The BMP-2M feature a number of other changes as well. To further reduce the heat signature, the exhausts have been routed through a side-mounted exhaust port, and angled downwards for better shielding. Crucially, the night-vision suite is completely revamped, and both the gunner and driver have access to new displays which allow the vehicle to safely drive and fight during the dark hours. Other new equipment include a new anti-air sight, which allows for a higher efficiency when engaging helicopters and other low- and slow-flying targets. A number of external storage boxes have also been mounted on both the turret and on the rear part of the hull. The later cover the firing ports for the infantry squad carried in the passenger compartment. The value of IFV’s having firing ports for the rifles have however always been questioned, as the added firepower is marginal and the firing ports becomes potential weakspots in the armour. A single port remains, which is to be used by the squad’s light machine gun. The value of the added storage space for the soldiers can hardly be overestimated. The low profile of the BMP-2 means that it has always been a cramped vehicle, and the amount of personal equipment carried by the infantry soldiers has risen steadily during the last decades. Now part of this, including e.g. the bulky anti-tank mines, can be carried in the external baskets.

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A Polish BMP-1 (local designation BWP-1) demonstrates the cramped nature of the low BMP-1/2 hull. To add to crew comfort, there are fuel tanks inside the rear door. Source: Polish DoD

Amongst the other changes the cushioning of the seats have been improved, new command and communications systems have been fitted (an important update which the defence force naturally doesn’t give out much details about), a new wire cutter is installed, and there is now heating in the passenger compartment.

Added together, do these modifications bring the trusty old ‘Bemari‘ up to the same standard as the CV9030? Certainly not! But the real selling point, as usual, is cost. For somewhat over 35 million euros, the army will get about one hundred modified BMP-2’s. The same sum would barely give ten brand new CV9030’s. The BMP-2M won’t be the best IFV around, but it will be adequate, and is now going to serve into the 2030’s, over fifty years after the original BMP-2 rolled off the production line. Not bad for a family of vehicles first envisioned in the late 1950’s!

Sources for this post: MoD, Conlog, Reserviläinen, Iltalehti, PSPR

IPH 2/16

The sound of cannon fire echoes through the forest, as I follow captain Laitinen towards the low tower protruding at the treeline. We are at the media tour of IPH 2/16, the latest edition of the twice-annually held exercise where soldiers from all of the ground-based air defense units come together for two weeks of intensive training at the Vattaja firing range. I smile as I spot the ZIL-131 trucks parked under the trees next to the dirt road. Soviet trucks are getting rarer in the defence forces, but if there’s somewhere one could expect to find them, it is within earshot of the trusty ZU-23-2 Sergei.

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The Sergei themselves soon come into sight. Grouped below the tower is a row of the light anti-aircraft guns. The older 23 ITK 61 are placed to the left, with the modernised 23 ITK 95 to the right. The difference between them is that the newer ones got an aiming computer, thermal camera, and laser range-finder to enhance their accuracy. “The larger ones are aimed remotely, so they are being zeroed in at the moment,” captain Laitinen explains and points towards the ends of the lines, where the Oerlikon GDF’s can be made out. I nod and pull out the camera to start taking pictures.

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While the army is the most visible service, the exercise is actually lead by the Air Force Academy. Captain Joni Laitinen is from the Academy, and works as the Leader of Exercise and Aerial Target Team. As such, he was the one responsible for the briefing we received before getting out in the field. The exercise trains both the air defence units themselves and their supporting units in all steps of their wartime tasks, he explained. This start with them moving to the area of operations a few hundred kilometres from their respective homebases. On location, they take up positions, with their wartime logistics and signals units supporting the combat elements. The first week is then all about the live firings of the systems at different aerial targets. After this, the combat stage takes place, where the air force and army aviation fly different scenarios over the firing range. This later phase is highly realistic, with the air defence network being met with targets ranging from unmanned systems, via helicopters, to fighter jets at different altitudes. The task is further complicated by the attackers employing jamming and releasing countermeasures, as the air force practices operations within an air defence zone. For a successful intercept, the air defences will first have to pick up the attackers on their radars, and then relay the information to the command network, which in turn direct the responses and alert the individual weapons systems as needed.

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It might not be immediately visible to the individual gun or missile crew, but behind every engagement, there is a long chain of events that are rehearsed and repeated time after time to make sure that everyone knows what they are doing, and feel comfortable in their own task. “The focus isn’t on shots fired, but on successful repetitions,” as captain Laitinen put it.

Today the focus is on live firings, with the autocannons taking the front stage. It is set to be a busy day, as bad weather had hampered operations the first day of the exercise. “Some of our aerial targets and air defence systems have a weather limit, which meant that yesterday was something of a low-ops day,” colonel Ari Grönroos explained. The colonel is the Inspector of Ground Based Air Defence at the Army Staff, and functions as the head of the exercise. “That’s the way it is in ‘real life’ as well,” he continued with a shrug.

At the moment the weather is better, and soon the small remotely controlled plane that functions as the target started buzzing the row of guns. The guns follow the red target and opens up in turns, firing bursts after burst towards it. The plane is equipped with a pressure sensor, which in real time tells the leader of the gunnery exercise how many shots passed within four meters of it. “If we have one or two 23 mm grenades pass within that distance, we can be quite confident that they would at least have damaged a fighter-sized target,” Laitinen explains. “The Sergei works by covering a relatively large area. That one instead works by accuracy,” he continues and points towards one of the Oerlikons, or 35 ITK 88 as it is known locally.

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Colonel Grönroos also makes sure to mention the excellent cooperation he feels exists between the defence forces and the local community. The same week that IPH2/16 took place, the latest in a row of meetings had taken place, in which the defence forces shared their plans for the upcoming years, and discussed these with the people living in the area near the firing range. The exercise is large for being such a specialised one, with over 200 reservists, 1000 conscripts, and 400 professionals taking part. While the latter aren’t necessarily the ones pulling the trigger, the exercise provides valuable training for them as well, including leading their units during the combat phase and renewing needed qualifications. During the live firings we witnessed two different reservist units alternate in firing the guns, allowing for more efficient training compared to if they only employed their own ones. 

During the springtime the Navy usually take part in the live firings with their vessels, but this time their presence was limited to providing security and emergency teams. In addition to the rapid response boat, a NH90 helicopter was temporarily based at the range as well, performing patrol flights and MEDEVAC if the need would arise. A field hospital is also set up for the duration of the exercise. The live firings were more limited compared to the spring as well, with the ITO 15 (FIM-92 Stinger RMP-I) being the only missile system to see action. “In the spring we are expecting to be performing live firings with four or five different missile systems,” Laitinen discloses.

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As we are about to move on, a sudden streak of light shoots across the sky, and destroys an aerial target further away. What immediately strikes me is the sheer speed of the Stinger missile, which admittedly comes as something of a surprise to me. Laitinen promises to get us a demonstration of the weapon, and after a short drive we meet up with tykkimies (gunner) Happonen who was the one to fire the missile we had seen. Bringing a training missile, he shows the proper handling, and admits that he didn’t see much of the live event due to the liberal amount of smoke the missile kicked up.

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A big thank you to Päivi Visuri at the Karelia Brigade, as well as colonel Grönroos and captain Laitinen for hosting our visit! A special thank you to gunner Happonen as well. More pictures from the tour are found at the Corporal Frisk Facebook-page.

TKRB – Coastal Defense in Swedish

In a surprise move, Sweden today announced that they will reintroduce truck-based coastal defense batteries equipped with the Saab RBS15 heavy-anti ship missile. This is not a new system for Sweden, which operated exactly such a unit for five years between 1995 and 2000. This was then rapidly disbanded in the general drawdown of the Swedish Defense Forces. The decision was widely criticised, and has since come to be seen as a major mistake (amongst several that took place between 2000 and 2009). Crucially, the equipment was not stored for a possible reactivation, but dispersed without any kind of central plan. Some of the trucks were sold on the civilian market, some were used by Saab, FMV, or the defense forces themselves.

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The Finnish truck-based launcher mounting the MTO 85M. Source: Wikimedia Commons/MKFI

The original TKRB (Swe. Tung kustrobot, literally ‘Heavy coastal missile’) was the RBS-15KA based on the baseline RBS 15, later referred to as Mk I. The current version in Swedish naval use is the updated Mk II, which also roughly corresponds to the Finnish MTO 85M. This is starting to show its age, and in the Finnish Navy it is to be replaced in both vessel- and coastal-based roles in the time span of 2018 to 2025. A number of countries around the Baltic Sea already operate the upgraded Mk III, which can be considered a completely new weapon for most intents and purposes.

The interesting part is that Sweden at very short notice has decided to introduce a new(ish) weapon system with a very limited operational life span of just five to ten years, after which it will have to be replaced with a new missile. Granted, this is a low-cost solution, with the weapons themselves already found in the inventory and the drawings for the truck-mount probably based on the original implementation. Still, it has been known for years that this system would significantly increase the deterrence factor, and nothing has happened until now.

The fact that this significantly heightens the Swedish Defense Forces ability to defend their home waters is great news for Finland as well, as this is one place where our supply lines would be vulnerable to intercept without the Finnish Navy or Air Force being able to do something. However, this also causes a very uncomfortable question to pop up again:

What does the Swedish Commander-in-Chief know, that our politicians pretend they don’t?

The Anti-Ship ATACMS and Finland

Some time ago the news broke that the upgrade program for the US MGM-140 ATACMS-missile will include not only a near-doubling of the range past 300 km, but also a seeker head allowing the targeting of moving targets at land and sea.

Much focus was placed on the last part, as it signifies an important shift in how the US Army sees its mission, with this being the first stated anti-shipping capacity of the force since disbanding the Coast Artillery Corps over half a century ago. In reality, hitting a moving target on land is probably a harder engineering problem than hitting one at sea, as the sea provides a level background made up of sea water which is nicely homogeneous when it comes to its temperature, refractive index, and differential scattering coefficient. Compare this to land, which is made up of a bewildering variety of rocks, swamps, concrete, forests, roads, cities, deserts, snow, and what not. In short: if you can identify, track, and target a moving target on land, doing so at sea is rarely an issue.

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An ATACMS being launched, clearly showing the massive size of the missile compared to the launch vehicle. Source: US Army
Exactly how the revised ATACMS will do its targeting is still unclear, but my best guess would be an IIR-seeker, allowing the missile to make (small) course adjustments on its way down towards the target.

For Finland, this provides an interesting opportunity, as Finland operate the M270 MLRS, the launching platform of the ATACMS (though not the missile itself). Wouldn’t this then provide an opportunity to get two capabilities for the price of one?

The answer, when actually on the battlefield, is ‘No’.

The M270, or 298 RSRAKH 06 as it is known locally, is a key part of the Finnish Army’s indirect firepower. Mounted on a chassis based on that of a M2 Bradley, it is highly mobile off-road and able to keep up with the advancing armour columns. Their mission according to Finnish doctrine is to support the manoeuvre elements of the army at the schwerpunkt. In this role, their tactical and (to a somewhat lesser extent) operational mobility shines, and the (arguably light) armoured nature makes it able to take some enemy fire and still keep on fighting.

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A Finnish 298 RSRAKH 06 ( M270A1 MLRS) moving into position in typical Finnish terrain. Source: Maavoimat
By contrast, a shore based anti-ship missile system usually downplays vehicle protection and tactical mobility for a higher payload and strategic mobility. Hence the vehicles used are often heavy trucks, keeping mobility higher and operating costs lower compared to tracked vehicles. As such, the M270 is far from an ideal launching platform, running around in a tracked and armoured chassis while sporting a maximum of two missiles.

The nature of the missile is also not without limits. As said, exactly how the seeker and guidance system will function is still unclear, but most likely the missile will have a relatively narrow engagement cone. This is partly offset by the faster travel time compared to a traditional sea-skimming missile, but it will still require a more exact location fix on the target. Granted sea-skimmers also benefit from an exact fix, but they can also be employed for more general modes of operation like launch on bearing. However, the biggest limiter is where to put the just 20+ launchers available to the army?

As noted above, they will be travelling with one of the two mechanised battlegroups. If they happen to be south of the Seinäjoki-Joensuu line (approximately 63°N) they are technically able to perform the anti-shipping mission in the Gulf of Finland. In practice the dual-tasking would be harder to pull off. The army would, quite rightly, insist on them carrying the load most suitable for the indirect fire support task and having the launchers subordinated to them. If the Navy would locate a suitable target, they would then have to call the battlegroup and ask for permission to use their rocket launchers. They would then have to hope that A) the launchers were available, B) in a suitable location to fire upon targets in the Gulf of Finland, C) that they were loaded with ATACMS, and D) that the battlegroup commander would not prefer to keep his high-value launchers hidden. If all of the conditions were met, the attack could be made. However, a typical high-value naval target would require a higher amount of missiles compared to a typical ATACMS target, such as a key bridge or other installation. This is due to the naval vessel seldom sailing alone, and sporting a very potent and concentrated anti-air cover (especially if it indeed isn’t sailing alone).

Is the anti-ship ATACMS a bad idea? Not necessarily. It does offer a new angle of attack (quite literally), as well as being hard to counter due to its speed. A more interesting question is which moving land targets that the US Army is planning on hitting with a one million euro a piece missile from a few hundred of kilometres out? Trying to take out individual vehicles will rarely make sense, though it could be the case with e.g. long-range SAM systems which are few and far between. In this, the enhanced ATACMS could be a part of the answer to the growing A2/AD-threat.

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3rd Field Artillery Regiment fire two rounds from their High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) in support of a fire coordination exercise for an element of 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd ID. Source: US Army/Sgt. Christopher Gaylord Date via Wikimedia Commons
If the missile is operated in an anti-shipping role, the more mobile HIMARS would probably be a better launch platform. This would then only carry a single missile per vehicle, but would be cheaper to operate and provide the kind of operational mobility needed for coastal defense systems. For Sweden, where the main threat picture include an amphibious assault in the south-eastern parts of the country, HIMARS coupled with ATACMS could be a solution. The Swedish Defense Forces currently lack both a multiple-rocket launcher system and a shore-based anti-ship missile system. Crucially, they also lack funds for a number of other things, and it is unlikely that they would get the funding to procure both systems. Here the HIMARS actually could make some sense, in providing anti-shipping capability with the ATACMS before the enemy has gotten ashore, and indirect fire support with rockets once the battle fore the beachhead has started.

The English Grave

In Finland (and Sweden) All Saint’s Day is celebrated on the first Saturday in November each year. While sharing its roots with Halloween, it is a markedly different holiday, still retaining its Christian importance and celebrated mainly by remembering the deceased by lighting candles at the graves of relatives. One of the graves in Kokkola, however, has a very different story.

When the (first) Crimean War broke out in 1854, Finland was a Grand Duchy in the Russian Empire. As such, a joint British-French squadron was quickly sent to the Baltic Sea to open up a second front by conducting raiding. Receiving basing rights from neutral Sweden, they quickly overran the Russian fortifications in Åland (giving the war its Finnish name: the ‘Åland War’), before starting to methodically raid Finnish ports. The weak defenses made it possible for the raiders to simply send detachments ashore and inform the local population that their merchant ships would be sunk and their stores burnt, after which this was carried out.

While this kind of warfighting certainly was fit for a gentleman and resulted in very little bloodshed, it did cause significant economic damages to the coastal communities hit, many of which relied heavily on foreign trade using ships owned and crewed by local merchants.

In Kokkola, the squadron was first sighted when it passed by in the early summer of 1854. The ships were heading north, and stayed well clear of the rocky shores of the city. News from the northern parts of Ostrobothnia soon confirmed that the Englishmen were making short work of any port they entered, and that they had turned around and were heading south, slowly pillaging their way home again.

The leading merchant families of the city did not look happily upon the prospects of having the port, including considerable stocks of tar, burnt. It also seems like a feeling of being treated unjustly had spread throughout the town. Much of the trade from Kokkola was with English ports, and many ships from the town had been interned with their crews being held in poor conditions in the UK. This was hard for the local inhabitants to accept, that their sons, fathers, and husbands were being held as prisoners of war by their trading partners, due to some unrelated quarrel in the Black Sea!

Regardless of the exact reasoning, the citizens of Kokkola decided to fight back, and sent a message to the Russian authorities that they were forming a militia, and now requested support from the Russian army. The Russian forces in the area were weak and spread out, but a small number of soldiers and a few light guns were sent to Kokkola.

On the 7 June, HMS Odin and HMS Vulture were again sighted outside of the city. The large vessels held considerable firepower compared to what the defenders could muster, but due to the cluttered archipelago, they were unable to find the sea lane leading into the port, meaning they had to be anchored outside of firing range. Instead, a number of launches were sent in, the first of which carried a delegation under parliamentary flag, which came ashore with the usual set of demands. They were greeted by the city mayor and the leading merchant, who refused to accept the British terms. The officers then got back to their boat, and everyone prepared for battle.

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The captured launch today in the English Park in Kokkola. Locally it is often said to be the only Royal Navy vessel still in ‘enemy’ hands, a notion that is false. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Jukka Kolppanen
The skirmish which followed was decidedly one-sided. The Finns had built a fake wall between some of the warehouses at the waterfront, and when the British vessels came close enough, this fell down and a hail of gunfire met the approaching boats. Out in the open, the British soldiers started to suffer losses, and eventually had to pull back before reaching shore. While retreating, one of the vessels got stuck on a rock, and was forced to surrender to the Finnish forces. The sole loss on the Finnish-Russian side was a dead horse and some material damage. It is my understanding that the British casualties came from both the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines. Some were on the boats retrieved by the steam frigates, and at least one of the POW’s later died in captivity. But some found their final resting place in Kokkola.

Next to one of the rear gates in the local cemetery today a tall stone can be found. Local stories tell that the British Admiralty still pay a small annual sum for the upkeep of the grave, though I am not certain if that claim would survive a closer inspection. The stone feature a long text in golden letters, written in Swedish, with the last part in verse.

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Here rests nine of the Englishmen fallen in battle at Halkokari and Beckbruket on the 7 June 1854. Namely

NATHANAEL MORPHY, Officer

ROBERT THUELL, WILLIAM COLLINS

GEORGE WILSON, WILLIAM WEDGE

JAMES WESTAKE, WALTER CRUB

ROBERT RUNDELL, JAMES HIGGINS

Pray for the fallen! Humans they were

Friend or foe, is not asked here

Away from the battle and alarm they went

A foreign land carved them a memorial

Meripuolustuspäivä 2016 – Maritime Defense Day

Once a year the Finnish Navy and Naval Reserve together arrange an invitation only seminar under the name of Meripuolustuspäivä (Maritime defense day). The purpose is to keep up to date with current trends in the field, as well as to enhance contacts and information sharing between the active-duty and reservist members of the Finnish naval community. This year’s edition was held at the Naval Academy in Suomenlinna outside of Helsinki, and was attended by approximately 100 persons, stretching from flag rank officers (active and retired) to cadets, with the civilians coming from the Naval Reserve, marine and defense industry, and other stakeholders. The information in this post comes from both presentations and informal discussions.

Robin Elfving, chairman of the Naval Reserve, during his presentation dealing with the current state and future of the organisation. Source: own picture

The Navy is certainly going places, and while the continued development of Squadron 2020 naturally grabs much of the spotlight, a number of other developments are taking place in the background. The Hamina-class is set to undergo their MLU in the 2018-2021 timespan, and it will mean a significant upgrade in capability for the vessels. Key amongst the changes are the introduction of ASW-capability. This is to mitigate the shortfall in ASW-capable hulls that will take place with the withdrawal of the older Rauma-class. The MTO 85M will also be replaced as discussed in an earlier post, with the new missile being installed on both the Hamina and the corvettes, as well as replacing the truck batteries before 2025. The plan seems to be that the updated Hamina will be the ‘little sister’ of the corvettes, sporting some of the same weapons and capabilities, which will allow for better interoperability between them. The introduction of a proper ASW capability in particular is most welcome, as sub-hunting is a field where search ranges are very limited, making the number of hulls available a key factor. The Navy will now also be able to work up proficiency on new capabilities on the first modified Haminas while waiting for the first corvette to reach operational capacity. In the meantime, further procurements have been made for a number of weapon systems destined to stay in service, and part of the Jurmo-fleet is also destined for a MLU in the near-future.

The last Katanpää-class mine-hunter is set to be handed over by the yard in Italy on the 1 November. The vessel, like its sisters already in Finland, will receive some minor changes to bring it up to standard. On the whole, the Navy is very happy with the class, with representatives noting that the delays and issues during the build phase largely have been related to the handling of the project, and not the vessels themselves.

Squadron 2020 is on track, and enjoys broad political support. Notably the final acquisition decision is not yet taken, as the project is still in the concept phase with the Navy going through the responses received for the RFI. The renders released are described as “artists impressions”, something which Saab’s representative was happy to latch on to and explain that instead of the fixed radarpanels on the latest renders a stealthy radar installation can be created by putting a spinning radar inside the mast. I can see that this is a less expensive solution, but tracking of fast-moving targets such as missiles will naturally suffer. I guess we’ll have to wait and see…

The scale model shown by Saab at Euronaval 2016, featuring a Giraffe 4A and a 1X above it in the cut-outs. This combination of shrouded rotating radars (the cut-outs are for illustrative purposes only) gives both long-range search capability and short-range tracking of rapidly closing targets. Photo: Saab, used with permission

The increased tensions around the Baltic are visible in the everyday work of the Navy. Not only is the Russian Baltic Fleet more active, but also the increased number of vessels being built for export by Russian yards bring traffic to the Gulf of Finland as they undertake sea trials here. The Finnish Defence Forces identify every single vessel moving on the northern Baltic Sea and in the Gulf of Finland, employing whatever method is the most suitable for each individual situation. The Navy is also further increasing its emphasis on readiness, not only as a technical requirement, but also as a state of mind for all personnel involved. This include not only active duty soldiers and seamen, but also conscripts which are now allowed to take part in such readiness operations for which they have received proper training. The Navy of today is first and foremost a readiness organisation.

For the Navy, international cooperation is a must. “We lack the capability to do certain things”, as one officer put it, and this hole is plugged through international cooperation, with Sweden as our single most important partner. The most important initiative is the joint Finnish-Swedish Naval Task Group, which is consistently improved and also the framework under which Finnish and Swedish units participate together in larger multinational exercises.

For the Naval Reserve, it continues its work as a link between the Navy and its reservists, as well as the common denominator for naval reservists throughout the country (including reservists from the coast guard). While the brand amongst active reservists is strong and holds a certain sense of pride, the organisation has now also been making a conscious push to heighten awareness of the naval reserve and its activities outside of currently active reservists, which has included a new website and increased presence in social media. To further enhance discussions in social media, the Naval Reserve also launched its Twitter-guide, including tips on how to take part in the defense and national security debate on said forum. At the same time, equipment-wise the training capabilities have been increased with introduction of more L-class vessels and new canoes for the training of coastal jaegers.

The theme of the panel was Hybrid Warfare, a topic which is as current as it is unclear. Defining what exactly constitutes hybrid war was a challenge in itself, with one definition being the employment of whatever methods work best, regardless of whether they are in line with traditions or any kind of legal/chivalric code. Another definition put forward focused on the use of unconventional methods by conventional actors (i.e. armies or other organised units) OR the use of conventional methods and weapons by irregular actors. A prime example of the first one is the Russian assault on Crimea and further operations in Eastern Ukraine, while the recent attack on Swift by Yemeni rebels (with or without the help of foreign ‘advisers’) using a modern complex weapon system such as a sea-skimming missile is an example of the later. It was also noted that hybrid warfare is a relatively new term in western discussions, and only after its widespread adoption here has Russian sources started using it, and then only as a description of how the west analyses Russia’s operations.

The threat of the unexpected is hard to guard against. Like a cartoon figure not noticing the saw cutting through the floor surrounding you, hybrid warfare works best when the target doesn’t notice that it’s foundation is being weakened. This can be achieved e.g. through the use of knowingly breaking international agreements or codes, such as falsely declaring emergencies to gain access to ports.

The term information warfare was also debated, as the use of (dis)information is a crucial part of any hybrid operation. However, as war usually involves more than one part, if someone is waging an information war against Finland, wouldn’t that mean that we are also conducting a war by defending us? Can we say that Finland is engaged in defensive information warfare? Our current defense largely consists of meeting false accusations and oversimplifications with correct information and facts, but is this also an information operation that qualifies as a kind of warfare?

The panel assembled. Source: own picture

For the information part, it is clear that an orchestrated campaign aimed at tarnishing Finland’s reputation is being waged by Russia. The goal here might be to isolate our country internationally, with a good example of what can happen when your reputation is low being Ukraine’s reputation as suffering from a high rate of corruption, which in turn lessens the willingness of the international community to come to its aid. Another point was made regarding Hungary, with the rhetorical question ‘Who would want to come to their aid if a crises occurred?” being asked. This is reminiscent of smear campaigns being directed against individuals, which e.g. can focus on addressing (often false) discrediting information to their employers or partners, with the aim of silencing or isolating a person.

This then transits over into the fact that the concept of nationalism is seemingly changing. With the increased polarisation and diversification of the Finnish society, the big question is how will “Finnish” be defined in the future? If the only thing defining it is a passport, that will inevitably threaten the unity of our society. With the younger generation seemingly less open to traditional Finlandisation, this seems like a likely target for hostile propaganda.

…and speaking of propaganda: what is really the PR-value of the Admiral Kuznetsov task force slowly heading south under a cloud of black smoke? Because one thing is sure, and that is that the military value the air wing can offer for the Syrian regime forces is limited at best.

Further Developments of Squadron 2020

The Finnish Navy has released further details on the upcoming corvettes. To begin with, RMC of Rauma has signed a letter of intent with the Finnish Defence Forces for the construction of the vessels. This has been expected, as of the three shipyards in the country capable of producing ships of this size, Artech Helsinki is Russian-owned and Meyer Turku has filled their production capacity for the foreseeable future. RMC has also teamed up with Patria to ensure that the newly-founded company has the economic and logistical muscle behind them to manage a project of this size. This might be crucial, as if RMC would fail the reviews currently being undertaken, there exists a very real risk that the vessels will have to be built abroad. A special arrangement is that the Finnish Defence Forces remains responsible for the design work, with the yard handling only the building process. This is to make possible the fast delivery schedule.

An interesting article in this year’s edition of Finnish Defence Force’s Insinööriupseri, a publication published yearly by the Engineer Officers’ Association (engineer as in “practitioner of engineering”, not sappers/pioneers). This includes not only articles on the subject, but also new renders and pictures from the research program.

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One of the new renders, showing the refined corvette concept. Source: Finnish Defence Forces / Insinööriupseeriliitto

Unlike the earlier renders, the concept is shown only from the sea level, meaning that several of the details that could be made out from the earlier bird’s eye views are not visible. Still, a number of important changes can be made out.

The most obvious one is that the single-panel rotating radar of the earlier renders have been replaced by a multi-panel fixed installation on a large mast of a truncated pyramid shape. This would mark a significant step up in detection capability and response time, as well as offering better stealth characteristics. Notably, the TRS-4D, successor to the TRS-3D currently found on the Hamina- and Hämeenmaa-classes, is available in both configurations.

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76 mm OTO Melara Super Rapid of the Norwegian Nansen-class frigates. A possible future Finnish deck gun? Source: Wikimedia Commons/Ketil

The only weapon system visible is the fore-mounted gun, which is reminiscent of the BAE 5” (127 mm) Mk 45 Mod 4 turret. If so, this would be the smallest class to be equipped with this weapon, and while not impossible, more likely the turret in the picture is just a generic placeholder, with a 3” (76 mm) weapon being the likely choice.

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All four sisters moving in column in their home waters. Source: Finnish Defence Forces / Insinööriupseeriliitto

The general design has also received a more pronounced twin mast setup, with the front mast holding the four-panel radar and sporting what seems to be an ESM-antenna on top. The rear masts holds an additional array of different antennas, and probably shrouds the funnel to reduce the IR-signature. This is a setup suspiciously similar to that employed by TKMS in recent MEKO-designs, including on the upcoming German F125-frigates and the (failed) MEKO-D bid to Australia. This is not to say that TKMS necessarily is involved in the design, the basic principle of splitting up prioritised systems for greater redundancy by physically separating them is common sense and not uniquely German. However, TKMS would be a logical partner for the “international cooperation and technology sharing [that] has occupied an important role in the project”, and the truncated front mast does bear a strong resemblance of the designs used for an early F125 draft and the aforementioned Australian concept. For the F125 concept, note not only the truncated pyramid form, but also the ESM-antenna on top of it, and wire antennas stretching from the front to the rear mast.

It is also mentioned that the US Navy has been the single most important partner up to this point, and that this is a natural continuation of a collaboration that has been taking place for close to ten years already.

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Propeller testing for Squadron 2020 showing cavitation on the propeller tips. Source: Finnish Defence Force / Insinööriupseeriliitto

The hull shape seems more or less finished, with tank testing having been performed in 1:15 scale, both as towed and self-propelled model. The propulsion will be of a traditional kind, with two shaft lines sporting a single propeller each. The propellers are a minor project on their own, and are set to be of a highly advanced design. This is due to the somewhat conflicting demands of high top-speed, small diameter (due to overall draught requirement),  and low noise (and high cavitation margin). All this, while at the same time being strong enough to cope with ice. This creates significant metallurgic and hydrodynamic challenges, but high-level propeller design is also an area of expertise found both in Finland and amongst our close friends abroad (including Sweden). Suffice to say, this isn’t on my top-five lists of things to be worried about in the program.

Also check out there earlier posts on the programme, including my discussion on the use of vertical-launch systems (VLS) for some serious surface-to-air capability and the general need for corvettes.