Yesterday Norway’s prime minister Jonas Gahr Støre stood outside in the middle of a serious snowfall at the military base in Rena and declared that Norway will get 54 new tanks with an option for 18 more, and that these will be Leopard 2A7NO ordered from KMW.
This put an at least temporarily to rest the debate about the role of tanks and the future of the mechanised Brigade Nord which was a strange story of late last year, and which I discussed in the post which caused by far the most significant reaction in mainstream media any of my posts have seen.
As noted earlier, when the procurement kicked off it was generally seen as an obvious win for the Leopard 2A7. Norway has operated both the Leopard 1 and 2, and in general has a healthy cooperation with Germany when it comes to a number of key systems, the Type 212CD submarine program being perhaps the most important program. Then came the reports of the K2 Black Panther actually outperforming the Leopard in the winter trials, the Black Panther entering the European market in style through the Polish deals, and finally the German political squabbling over the question of tank deliveries to Ukraine, all of which seemed to point towards the possibility of an upset.
That was however not to be, and in the end the favourite held. The message at the press conference emphasised the strong political and industrial benefits of the Leopard 2 – the prime minister speaking fondly of “cooperating” with their “close ally” Germany on the project, and the fact that Finland and Sweden also operate the Leopard 2, as does Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands. This certainly was a significant hurdle for the K2. No matter how good a deal Hyundai Rotem might have offered, for the foreseeable time all of Norway’s geographically closest partners operate the competitor. Poland might be an exception, but Poland is also a country and a sea away from a Norwegian point of view.
There are unconfirmed reports that the Norwegian Defence Materiel Agency (FMA) would have recommended the K2 as the superior tank for the Norwegian requirements. What is confirmed, however, is that both tanks did meet the requirements laid out by the FMA for the tests. With that in mind, the decision from both the prime minister, minister of defence, and minister of finance to spend the better part of their speeches on the fact that from a holistic point of view the Leopard 2 was the better package for Norway certainly could be an indication that other aspects than pure performance of the individual vehicles played a significant role. This is no criticism, if the race was close the added value of what in essence is a standardised tank in Northern Europe (again, Poland being the exception) is certainly something that should be factored in. For my favourite topic of the common defence of the High North, while the future might be somewhat unclear for the Finnish Leopard 2A4s, the 2A6s will serve on for the foreseeable future, and if the Swedish Strv 122REMO-program really is about such a significant upgrade as the Strv 123 Tankograd reported on, they are bound to stay in service for years.
According to most open sources, the differences in combat capability between the Leopard 2A7 and K2NO in the current configurations are rather limited. The K2NO might sport a an autoloader, but that has a relatively small impact on the combat performance (it would mean that the Norwegian armoured units can make do with 54 crew less, but that is a minor consideration for the brigade as a whole). The question of weight and suspension is more interesting, with the K2NO reportedly tipping the scale at 61.5 t with the 2A7NO coming in at between 61.5 to 64.3 t according to KMW. Notable is that KMW’s homepage list a number of different features as uncertain, including APS, added top-side armour, and cooling for turret and hull. Those most likely are not three tons, but considering the K2NO to my understanding has e.g. the APS integrated it is likely safe to say it is somewhat lighter, which coupled with the more modern suspension probably isn’t a bad thing in Norwegian terrain.
This however brings us to the big difference between the contenders – while both tanks have the same stuff, on the K2NO they are integrated from the start of the design while the Leopard 2A7NO have them bolted on (this is the kind of extremely crude oversimplification I can get away with because I write my own blog and don’t have an editor, but you get the point). The new tank will not only serve in the current configuration, but will spend decades in service with all the upgrades that come with it. In that regard, an argument can certainly be made that the K2 likely offer more room for growth, something which might be interesting once the 2030’s starts to wrap up.
At the same time, the argument can be flipped. Leopard 2 is a mature design with a proven track record in Europe and beyond, including in the harsh conditions of Afghanistan. It might be suffering from a bit of excess weight, but the basic design is sound and with new-built hulls it is still as competent as ever in meeting everything the enemy can throw at it. The large user base also means that even if you won’t buy into the latest German standard, you are still likely to find a few friends with whom to share R&D costs.
The Leopard 2A7NO might have been the safe choice and from the point of view of potential buyers the strong position of the Leopard on the European market might not be completely unproblematic, but from a logistics point of view it certainly makes sense. For Finland (and Sweden) as well as for Norway the most important thing is that the Army did get their tanks, and while I had held out hope for the complete 72 tanks to be ordered at once this is certainly significantly better than the news we got last year. We might have to continue to wonder about how Norway struggle to find enough money for a serious defence budget, but at least we will continue to have three Leopard users in the High North, and that is certainly something to cherish!
…and I will say I much appreciated the prime minister noting the importance of the new capability for Finland and Sweden as well (and that Norway expects a quick ratification of our NATO-membership), when we now start to plan the common defence of the North.
The following proposal is madness. I’ve been told so in no uncertain terms by people knowledgeable of the matter who’s opinions I highly respect. It runs against both the common discourse as well as what the authorities and officials with detailed classified knowledge about the issues at hand has said in their communiques. It also comes with a hefty price tag, and I have no proposal what should be cut in order to make it fit in under an already unhealthy Finnish budget. But with all that said, isn’t it for these kinds of out-of-the-box craziness that non-aligned defence analysts are valued?
As I think most serious defence analysts are in agreement on, the War in Ukraine has shown the value of armoured protection in general and tanks in particular on an increasingly lethal battlefield. As such, it only makes sense that a very valuable kind of support for Ukraine would be tanks. Tanks, like other high-tech systems such as fighters or warships, age, and while older equipment can be both useful and effective, modern equipment is usually significantly more so. Modern tanks also benefit from more readily available spares and munitions. As such, handing Ukraine modern tanks instead of trying to buy up every available T-72 makes sense.
Of the modern tanks available in Western forces today (M1 Abrams, Leopard 2, Ariete, Challenger 2, Leclerc, and K2 Black Panther), most are either high-maintenance and supply intensive (M1 Abrams), available in very limited numbers (Ariete, Challenger 2, K2 Black Panther, Leclerc), or using non-standard munitions (Challenger 2). As such, the Leopard 2 is the obvious choice (the Leopard 1 is a Cold War-relic that isn’t particularly relevant to the discussion on modern tanks, though the Leopard 1 in later versions certainly can take down a T-62 in a fight).
Finland has the Leopard 2 in two different (MBT) versions, the older Leopard 2A4 and the newer Leopard 2A6. As opposed to what some has reported, both are very much in use and occupy a key role in the Finnish wartime forces as the main armoured spearhead (again, a key capability when it comes to throwing out an attacker that has gotten over the border). The exact numbers are somewhat uncertain for the 2A4, as a number of older hulls have been bought for the express purpose of being cannibalized for spares, and a number has been converted to specialised roles such as bridge-layers, self-propelled anti-aircraft guns, engineering vehicles, and so forth. However, it is safe to say that the number of operational Leopards in Finnish service sits at roughly 80 Leopard 2A4 and 100 Leopard 2A6.
If European countries start sending Leopards to Ukraine – and by now it is starting to be evident that as with most German red lines, this one will become void at some point – the talk in Finland is that Finland would participate, but that the number of tanks would be very limited and that the support would likely focus on training, spares, and similar support missions. Because Finland “can’t send many tanks“.
And here is where I call a foul. Finland can send a significant number of tanks, but it would be expensive and we would take a national security risk.
The short version is that we could send all Leopard 2A4, which would mean the tank part of an under-strength armoured brigade (your order of battle will vary, in Poland 58 tanks is a battalion, in the US 87 tanks is a brigade). The Leopard 2A4-force was slated for a mid-life upgrade already a decade ago, but that was eventually scrapped due to cost and the opportunity to buy second-hand 2A6NL from the Netherlands at throwaway cost. The word then was that they would replace the 2A4 which we couldn’t afford to upgrade, but as it turns out the Finnish Defence Forces decided to instead double the armoured force.
Here we run into a particular quirk of the Finnish Defence Forces: The Army doesn’t like to talk. This isn’t just restricted to tanks, but in general they don’t discuss their wartime formations, and as such they don’t talk about their plans for the future as that would lead to people getting ideas about the current situation. While I can understand that from an OPSEC-perspective, it also leads to situations of serious questions about civilian and budgetary oversight, and for the Army it is significantly harder to “sell” their needs compared to the Navy or the Air Force who rather clearly communicate their equipment needs (which granted are more straightforward, as the number of platforms and their capabilities are to a certain extent simpler). The Army has a hard time saying “Trust us, anything less than 180 main battle tanks and we’re open for invasion” when we apparently were okay with 100 for quite some time after the T-72s all went to scrapheap and the 2A4 was the sole tank in the fleet.
However, I will go out and say that I agree with the current discourse that a single brigade’s worth of tanks is significantly too few for a country the size of Finland, and even two brigades is a questionable minimum. However, defence budgets are tough, so let’s say we are at the rough equilibrium where we can balance the costs of operating 200 tanks with the combat capability needed. Until someone open up the calculations and capabilities a bit more, that sounds like a reasonable equation. If we send the Leopard 2A4s somewhere else, they would obviously need to be replaced, and for once we have something approaching a reasonable cost-estimate. The Norwegian project to acquire new tanks sport a budget of approximately 1.8 billion Euros (19.3 Bn NOK) for 72 new tanks. Say an even 2 Bn EUR for 80 tanks and a solid replacement on a one-to-one basis for Finland. The original plan for the Norwegian deal was deliveries from 2025, but that would have included contract signing last year, and it is safe to assume delivery times might have gone up a bit. As such, shipping away the Leopards now and at the same time ordering a replacement would leave our tank force cut by ~45% for 5-8 years.
So why would Finland send tanks to Ukraine? Why can’t anyone else do so? The whole point was that the Leopard 2 is in widespread use, right?
Numbers are deceiving, and not all Leopard 2s are the same. The 2A4 is the oldest current version, and is in relatively widespread use, while the 2A6 represent a new standard with among other things a more modern gun. The 2A5 sit in-between the 2A4 and the 2A6, while the 2A7 is significantly more modern and only now really starting to roll off the production lines in any serious numbers. However, not all 2A4s are the same either, as most countries do a certain amount of local changes. This can range from mounting your favourite 7.62 mm machine gun to developing national standards calling for their own designations (looking at you, Swedish Strv 122). The Finnish 2A4 is rather close to the German baseline, sporting new and enlarged storage compartments, modified side skirts, and a number of minor detail changes.
As such, while you can certainly mix and match – in particular as long as you stay with the same version – maintenance and spares will obviously be easier the closer you stick to a single national variant. In other words, taking ten vehicles here and ten vehicles there isn’t necessarily the most efficient way (although vastly better than getting ten Challenger 2 and ten Leopards).
And then the numbers aren’t as overwhelming as some would like to make them out to be. There are twenty countries operating the Leopard 2 (21 if you count UAE and their four Wisent 2 AEVs). If we look at the 2A4, in addition to Finland, Spain, Norway, Poland, Greece, Turkey, Chile, Singapore, Canada, and Indonesia operate the tank in any sizeable numbers. Scratch the countries in Asia and South America, because so far the Ukraine aid has been a decidedly North American and European affair. Then you can remove Greece and Turkey, since neither will part with any armour before it literally is falling into pieces. This leaves Norway, Spain, Poland, Canada, and Finland. Poland and Norway are as much of frontline states as Finland, and while Poland already has shipped serious amounts of tanks to Ukraine the roughly 50 2A4s are the only tanks in Norwegian service. Spain indeed has been interested in sending the tanks, but found them to be in too poor condition to be of use. Canada has 42 used in a training role, so these might be of use.
Going to the 2A5 and related versions (including modernised 2A4s), we are looking at Switzerland (strictly “neutral”), Sweden (120 tanks of the unique Strv 122 version, sole tank in use), Poland (frontline state), Singapore (in Asia), Canada (just twenty 2A4M), Indonesia (in Asia). For 2A6, we have Germany, Spain, Finland, Greece, Portugal (just 37 tanks), Canada (just twenty tanks), of which Spain has a serious number (219) of their Leopard 2E-version which could provide a serious number. Germany obviously would be the big player, but they are in fact situated at less than 150 tanks currently, and can hardly be expected to be the leader for this project (or generally when it comes to hard security in Europe).
As such, Finland is – while not completely unique – one of the few countries that could send a sizeable number (more than a battalion) of tanks in good condition, of a single configuration, without giving up most or all of our most modern tanks.
The counter-argument is obviously that we aren’t a NATO-member (yet), which makes things tricky. I agree on that, and that is indeed the key question which only the top-diplomats can currently answer – how safe does the current status as applicants make us feel? How much of a risk would we take by halving our tank force for half a decade?
At the same time, there is a number of other issues affecting Finnish security that would support the decision to send tanks. Ukraine’s success on the battlefield has measurably increased Finnish security in that the forces on the other side of the border are getting shot to pieces somewhere else. Similarly, the war dragging on would in itself be destabilising for the region, as a more desperate Russian political leadership might lash out in unexpected actions, or groups or parts of society inside Russia might start acting in ways counter to Finnish interests and security. On the opposite, further Ukrainian success on the battlefield would likely cause yet more Russian forces to leave their garrisons for a battlefield away from our borders. I believe that most of my readers would agree that a decisive Ukrainian victory on the battlefield in the near-future would be the most preferable outcome for Finnish security (and that is from a strictly realist point of view, there certainly is a moral aspect here as well, but that is a more complex question which would require too much space for me to open up in detail in this post).
A key issue for the FDF would be the question of personnel where we suddenly would train half the number of wartime tank battalions for a few years. This would need careful planning to ensure that there are available officers and NCOs with experience once the new tanks are brought into service. But considering the high tempo of operations during recent years and the fact that the 2A4 and 2A6 gun tanks are only one part of an armoured force that include a number of platforms (at the same time, I realise that going from the 2A4 to a MT-LB might not be a career development to everyone’s liking…) it might be possible to work out a reasonable solution to this issue as well.
As mentioned, the Leopard 2A4 are by now approaching a decade since the planned MLU was cancelled, meaning that they will need either a serious upgrade or a replacement within the next five to ten years in either case. As such, the option of shipping them off to secure Finnish interests in another country is not as outrageously expensive compared to what the eventual budget for them will be in either case (2 Bn EUR is still a huge amount). However, there is the issue with the new replacement tank being several years away. Here, it is notable that Finland has likely never been safer since before the Bolsheviks managed to secure power after the Russian civil war, meaning that we possibly have been offered a unique window that allow for the risk-taking required (if indeed the risk of sending them is seen as greater than the risk of Ukraine not getting a brigade worth of Leopards and how that would benefit Finnish security). It is also notable that even if the war ended tomorrow and Russia started rebuilding their forces, missing the officers and NCOs who have been killed or wounded on the battlefield will cause issues for any rebuilding program.
What could be the next steps if those with access to the folders with red stamps on would decide that the risk of sending Leopards would be smaller than the risk of not doing so? The government and leading opposition parties would have to get together (we are close to a parliamentary election, and this kind of radical decision would need broad parliamentary support to survive), and take the decision to prepare the shipment of the Finnish Leopard 2A4 fleet to Ukraine, publicly announcing it to put pressure on Germany to allow for the export, and decide on additional funding outside of the ordinary defence budget to fund the 2 Bn EUR replacement program. Next step would be to call Norway and the suppliers for their program (Hyundai Rotem and KMW), and ask to be let in on the program. In the best of words, we would be able to just rip off the Norwegian evaluation and ask if everyone would be happy to include an option for an additional 80 or so tanks to Finland according to the same terms and conditions of the Norwegian contract in the same way Estonia has tagged along on Finnish buys of radars and artillery (if we talk really nice to the Norwegians, we might even reach some compromises when it comes to delivery slots despite that causing some delays for them. After all, a strong Finnish Defence Force is a good thing for Norwegian security as well). If there is something with the Norwegian requirements we can’t agree to, we might have to run our own procurement competition, but in either case it should offer plenty of valuable experiences from both bidder and buyer points of view to start the discussion with them – ensuring we hit the ground running in a procurement program where speed would be of the essence.
As such, it’s not that Finland can’t deliver a serious number of tanks to Ukraine – it’s that we aren’t prepared to pay the costs and take the risks such a decision would include. And I for one does not know for certain if that is the correct decision or not.
Sometimes a book catches you by surprise. When Helion reached out and asked if I would like to review a title or two for them, I jumped at the occasion to sink my teeth into “Carrier Killer – China’s Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles and Theater of Operations in the early 21st Century” by Gerry Doyle and Blake Herzinger. However, Helion offered two books, and among the titles on offer was also “Handbrake!” by Alejandro Amendolara and Mariano Sciaroni (ISBN: 9781915070722), dealing with what probably is the most well-known system of the Falklands War: the Super Étendard and its fearsome Exocet missile. In a change of plans, I will review the latter now, because I believe that the majority of those interested in the rather niche topic of Chinese ballistic anti-ship missiles will by now already know that Doyle and Herzinger has written an excellent book on the topic, and instead I will focus on “Handbrake!” which was a pleasant surprise.
(I will be using the standard English name throughout this text, largely due to using both in running text being unwieldy and since the name Falkland Islands is standardised in English).
Now, the Falklands War has been a personal area of interest for me for decades, as it in many ways combine my core interests of naval, aviation, and amphibious operations in a package held together by huge personalities, improvisation, bravery, and a serious amount of ‘can do’-attitude on both sides of the conflict. That was also why I was somewhat sceptical of how much new the book would bring, as I felt I had a rather good picture of the topic, and my fear was that dedicating 98 pages to what amounted to three missions actually seeing missiles fired would either just repeat the well-known story or go into tiresome minutiae. Fortunately, I was wrong.
The book starts with an overview of the Super Étendard and the AM39 Exocet, followed by a brief history of the Segunda Escuadrilla Aeronaval de Caza y Ataque (the Second Naval Fighter and Attack Squadron) of the Argentinian Naval Aviation. This then continues on to the chronology of the acquisition of the aircraft, the training of the pilots, deliveries, and how the IOC to FOC program was set up in Argentina. As is well-known, that nice plan was cut short by the war.
The book discusses the integration work, development of tactics, and the infighting and politics surrounding the usage of the unit – with both the Air Force and more surprisingly the Naval leadership showing surprisingly poor understanding of the capabilities and limitations – before discussing the history of the unit in the war with a focus on the missions flown. It manages to go into detail while still being a very readable text. It also include ample personal accounts not only from the 2de Escuadrilla, but also from those supporting the missions such as the SP-2H Neptune unit as well as from the UK side of the attacks. The last part of the book briefly look at the history of the unit and their aircraft following the war.
As said, while I felt I had a quite good grasp of the situation, but there was still ample detail throughout which were new to me. I knew there were challenges with the integration of the missiles, but the book opens up the nature of these and how they were overcome. In the same way, while I knew the Neptunes were old and worn, it is only after reading “Handbrake!” I understood the nature of these problems and why it wasn’t possible to push them just a bit harder considering it was war. The maps drawn for this book are also among the very best I’ve seen related to not just these strikes but air war in general, capturing not only the facts, but also taking care to point out radar contacts and timestamps which might or might not have been correct, something that makes it possible for the reader to follow not just what happened, but what the people involved in the fighting thought was happening. It is also the most detailed description of the controversial 30 May strike directed against HMS Invincible I’ve come across, and here as well we have not only the classic “they flew this route”-map, but also a detailed look at the Task Force and what was going on inside it during those hectic minutes.
This was my second Helion-book (after “Carrier Killer”), and as said I was positively surprised and impressed by the quality of the book throughout. The writing is excellent, the balance between the eyewitness accounts and the more objective narration that forty years of hindsight provides is spot on, and as mentioned the illustrations – including photographs, colour profiles of the Super Étendards, an SP-2H Neptune, one of the units earlier T-28P Trojans, a Dagger A, a KC-130H, an A-4C Skyhawk, and HMS Sheffield, and the excellent maps – are top notch. Working in the field professionally, I will say that the decision to allow the maps to be a bit cluttered in order to provide more information than what is usually the case was a true home-run.
If you are looking for what just might be the definitive account in English of the Super Étendard operations in the Falklands War, this might just be it. The only thing related which I feel might have been of value to include would be a brief account of the single land-based missile attack on HMS Glamorgan to cover all Exocet-launches, but the book is clearly written around the Super Étendard and the men surrounding the aircraft so I understand that decision – the Glamorgan-attack really doesn’t have any connections to the other besides the weapon used.
I will note that if you are new to the Falklands War, you will probably be better served by some broader work to begin with, to be able to fit the story of the five missile launches into the wider picture. However, if you like me have an unhealthy obses…, ahem, keen interest in the conflict, the book is an excellent addition to any bookshelf. Highly recommended.
The book was provided free of charge (except custom duties which I paid myself) for review by Helion.
Just behind the top-tier air forces of the world is a small choice group of major regional powers who feature most of the capabilities of the great powers, although on a smaller scale. While Israel is perhaps the most obvious example, Harpia Publishing’s Modern South Korean Air Power – The Republic of Korea Air Force Today (ISBN: 978-1-950394-07-4) places the spotlight on another one of the big players.
Harpia’s books are a known concept for readers of my reviews. We are talking about a high-quality sturdy paperback with a liberal amount of pictures. For this volume, Harpia has brought in long-term aviation photographer Robin Polderman as the author, and the result is a really interesting volume on a topic which might certainly have global implications if things turn bad – the Korean peninsula being probably the only flashpoint with not only obvious interest to all three major powers but also a local actor with nuclear weapons and ICBMs.
The book takes a surprisingly broad approach, including not only a short history on the origins of military aviation in pre-war Korea as well as the history of the ROKAF from the humble beginnings up to today, but also a complete overview of all aircraft as well as helicopters and weapons in service today (including the Patriot and KM-SAM air defence systems operated by the service) as well as other podded systems (ELINT, jammers, recce/targeting pods, target towing systems, …). In addition the book deals with training (pilot/air crew training as well as major exercises), the modernisation plans stretching from 2021 to 2035, the surprisingly large and varied domestic aviation industry of the country, as well as the strategic picture including a history of recent developments covering roughly the last five years, as well as the moves of other stakeholders in the region. This include overviews of both US assets in the region as well as a concise but surprisingly exhaustive look at the North Korean Air Force. However, one of the things I felt was not discussed in appropriate detail was the role of the other services’ aviation arms, in particular when it comes to the question of helicopters where the ROK Army Aviation is a sizeable operator (read: they’ve got hundreds of them). As an example I am left somewhat in the dark when it comes to why both the Army and the Air Force flies around with their own Chinooks, and whether they perform similar roles? The title mentioning “air power” as opposed to “Air Force” also make this omission feel a bit strange, although to be fair the air force-focus is clear from the sub-header. At the same time, it is difficult to fault a book that manages to paint such a complete picture, even if my personal choice would have been to drop the part about Taiwan and the ROCAF and dedicate the space freed up to a short discussion on the other flying services. But perhaps we are just waiting for volume two (and three?) in a pattern similar to Harpia’s recent books on Chinese military aviation?
With that said, it really is difficult to stress enough how thorough the book is. How many books on the topic takes time to explain the role and functions of the AN/ASW-55 datalink pod? The many twists and turns that has shaped the modern ROKAF fighter fleet are also discussed, including the cancelled F/A-18 Hornet and F-15 Silent Eagle deals. The development of domestic aircraft have also turned out to be of surprising importance for the European discussion following Poland’s recent framework agreements with the Republic, a development which was not in the cards when the book came out last year. Perhaps most impressive is that Polderman manages to cram all this into 236 pages (followed by an appendix of full-colour unit badges, this is the longer of Harpia’s standards for those familiar with their books) without the text feeling dense. It is in fact a surprisingly easy read if you want to go cover-to-cover, as opposed to some Harpia titles which are more firmly in the reference work-section. With that said, the reference value is immense, both for defence analysts and scale modellers. As mentioned, you don’t get just the aircraft and units, but also weapons, electronic warfare capabilities, and future plans.
I have to say that I personally feel like this is one of the stronger books published by Harpia in the last few years, and as such is highly recommended to anyone interested in the topic.
The book was received free of charge for review from Harpia Publishing
Finland has gone on a bit of a shopping spree when it comes to munitions recently. Finally, one might add, as low stocks of advanced munitions has been quoted in defence white papers as a serious issue. Following the developments of this year, the FDF has received a serious amount of more funding both immediately available and for the coming years. The amounts to be spent on acquisitions is somewhat unclear to me due to the numerous changes and some funding being “new” while others are related to covering equipment having been sent to Ukraine, but we are talking about more than a billion euros of additional funds (i.e. above the originally planned level for 2022 and assuming a similar level in 2023) spread out over this year and the next.
While most of the deals are classified, the US congressional notices through the DSCA provide certain insight – though with the usual caveat that these represent possible maximums (i.e. everything between zero and the quoted number can be acquired, and that one shouldn’t look at the figures next to the dollar signs for any kind of confirmation of the contract cost.
One of the big media stars of the war in Ukraine has been the HIMARS with the GMLRS-guided missiles. In Finnish service the weapon has been used by the M270 MLRS already earlier, and a follow-on request for longer-ranged ER GMLRS was approved in 2021 and ordered just before the invasion of February. The approval covered 25 M30A2 ER GMLRS-AW pods and 10 M31A2 ER GMLRS-U pods, of which the AW (Alternative Warhead) uses pre-fragmented tungsten fragments to spread destruction over a bigger area while the U (Unitary) relies on blast and pressure effects to destroy individual targets. Each pod sports six missiles, and while the cost quoted in the DSCA notice is 91.2 million USD, the eventual contract value for an undisclosed number of pods was approximately 70 million EUR.
This is all nice and good, and then the FDF brought the big sack of money to Grand Prairie.
150 M30A1 GMLRS AW or M30A2 GMLRS AW with Insensitive Munitions Propulsion System (IMPS), or a combination of both, and 250 M31A1 GMLRS-U or M31A2 GMLRS-U IMPS, or a combination of both. The total estimated cost: 535 million USD (509.7 MEUR).
The reason behind the mix in versions between the A1 and A2 is due to there being a parallel request for diversion of 50% of this procurement from US stock.
To get an idea of how insanely large the order is, the total US production of GMLRS pods during the first two decades reached 8,334 pods in February last year. 400 pods is roughly a years worth of production at that rate, though currently the annual production rate is 1,250 pods with the ability to go up to 1,670 pods. Still, even with production at full speed that means Finland would like close to a quarter of Lockheed Martin’s annual production (though as noted, part of these could come from US stocks which then could be topped up later).
Safe to say, while the media discourse might be overly eager to jump on a single weapon system as the silver bullet, it does seem safe to say that the GMLRS has proven itself to the extent that a serious investment in missiles seems to be in the cards for Finland.
AIM-9X Sidewinder and AGM-154 JSOW
Then followed a somewhat unlikely mix of air-launched weapons, with the short-range air-to-air AIM-9X Sidewinder (40 missiles) and the advanced air-to-ground guided glide-bomb AGM-154 JSOW (48 weapons). The immediate reaction by some was that we are seeing the first order for weapons (outside of the original package) for Finland’s coming F-35A-fleet, which does operate both weapons. However, it is notable that both weapons are also used by the current F/A-18C/D Hornets. The number of JSOW in service is believed to be limited, and it is certainly possible that in the same discussion as that of more GMLRS it has become evident that a larger number of precision-guided air-to-ground weapons are needed. The JSOW is an interesting capability in that it is significantly cheaper than cruise missiles (such as the AGM-158 JASSM), in parts thanks to it being unpowered. At the same time, it offers significantly greater range compared to traditional guided bombs such as the JDAM.
But why do we suddenly need more Sidewinders? One possibility is simply that there has always been too few in stock. Another is that experiences from Ukraine has shown the value in being able to hunt down cruise missiles and helicopters, and it might be that the analysis of the FinAF is that Sidewinders provide a better return on investment in that role compared to the AIM-120 AMRAAM (it is also possible that AMRAAMs are being ordered through another package to supply both the NASAMS-batteries as well as the fighters).
With the F/A-18C/D getting to serve on in Finnish service as the primary ground-pounder until the second fighter wing converts and F-35A reaches FOC by 2030, topping up the stocks with both Sidewinders (an important weapon in the self-defence role as well) and heavy-hitting guided weapons that provide a measure of stand-off capability certainly would make sense.
The latest news was that Finland has its sights set on additional Stingers. Finland has the FIM-92E Stinger RMP Block I (this particular upgrade is possibly designated FIM-92F, the designations are somewhat messy as many Stinger-variants are upgrade programs for older variants) in service as the primary MANPADS, with the clearance having come already back in 2011 for up to 600 missiles and the eventual order for an undisclosed number (Janes estimate is 200) of refurbished ex-US missiles being signed in 2014. Again it would be easy to make assumptions on the purpose of the weapon – Finland topping up stocks, of which some might or might not have been included in deliveries to Ukraine.
Except the tiny detail that this time around the quoted version was the FIM-92K.
While the FIM-92E was the latest and greatest for a while, the years since has seen the introduction of the FIM-92J with added capability against small unmanned targets (thanks to a proximity fuse) as well as upgrades allowing for longer shelf-life. However, in parallel to the FIM-92J our friend the FIM-92K was developed which is a version featuring an improved datalink for lock-on after launch capability (LOAL) and the ability to feed cooling and power from an external source.
To put it in clear writing, the FIM-92K is the version for vehicle-mounted launchers. While my understanding is you can in theory put a FIM-92K through a normal MANPADS tube, it is questionable why Finland would opt for a specialised version if there weren’t plans to hook them up to something feeding either the target location and/or power and cooling.
While there are people who without doubt would like to see the Avenger in Finnish service (mainly scale modellers, if we are honest), more likely is that we will have some platform more related to the current vehicles in service. Perhaps the most notable thing is that the ASRAD currently in service as the ITO05 with the SAAB BOLIDE-missile is in fact set up from the beginning to be able to take a number of different missiles, such as the RBS 70/BOLIDE, Mistral, Igla, and the Stinger. In fact, of the three current operators, Finland with the ASRAD-R is the only one not to use the Stinger in the current setup, with both Germany and Greece having the Stinger as their big (okay, rather small) stick.
Will Finland create a new TELAR in the style of the current BOLIDE-carrying vehicles, strip the current ones of the BOLIDE to replace them with Stingers, or some other solution? Who knows, even tying the FIM-92K to ASRAD-R is speculation at this stage. It might simply be that Finland was able to get a better price on the FIM-92K instead of the -92J due to component costs or by leveraging a hot production line. However, if I had to guess, analysis of the war has shown that there is a need to get more firing units to cover against the UAS and cruise missile threat, and with both ASRAD and Stinger being known and apparently well-liked systems, combining the two would make perfect sense for a quick and cheap(ish) solution. Notable is that the beam-riding nature of the BOLIDE and the heat-seeking Stinger means that anyone facing a Finnish ASRAD would be unsure about the nature of the threat, which certainly would benefit the Finnish air defence units. Will we see an ASRAD-adaption on a Zetros-chassis with Stinger-missiles? Time will tell, but in my opinion that would certainly be less of a surprise than if a battalion of Avengers suddenly appeared in Karelia.
You do have to feel for Swedish defence planners. Following a rather long and arduous journey, Sweden finally got a new long-term defence plan approved in 2020. And less than two years after that, Sweden decides to join NATO and several of the underlying premises flew out of the window. As such, the government asked the Swedish Commander in Chief for new recommendations with priorities under the new situation. This was published a while ago, and in general can be described as “It would be good to do more faster, though we have to keep an eye on not shuffling too much resources and personnel to growth so readiness starts to suffer”. However, there are some changes which are worth a more detailed comment, and I will focus on the changes to key systems in usage as they are easy to get a grip of in this rather limited overview. Several of the major changes envisioned are on the process and organisation side, and getting an accurate take on their potential impact would deserve a significantly longer analysis.
A quick note: these are recommendations provided by the Swedish Armed Forces, and as such have not been decided upon yet. During the process leading up to the 2020 plan the politicians did shift focus and major decisions quite drastically from those supported by the Armed Forces, and can certainly do so again. About the structure of the report, the 2024 to 2030 period is described in some detail, while the 2031 to 2035 is painted with broader strokes of the brush.
In the ground arena we see some significant changes. The three mechanised brigades will all get an additional fourth battalion to allow for greater staying power on the battlefield. Battlegroup Gotland would also receive reinforcements to give it a more well-rounded capability. These changes would come before 2030, while the Battlegroup Mälardalen would be transformed into a full (motorised) infantry brigade (Livgardesbrigaden, IB 1) in the period following that. That unit is tasked with defence of the greater Stockholm-region.
The equipment of the mechanised units is growing old, and a new infantry fighting vehicle is in the cards during this decade. My personal guess is that this would be a new version of the CV 90, or potentially a new design from BAES Hägglunds. The current fleet of Strv 122 (Leopard 2A5 with Swedish modifications) is to undergo an MLU to allow it to serve past 2035. While the paper does not include any details, Frank Lobitz in his grand book on the Leo 2 “Gesamtwerk Leopard 2” (published by Tankograd Publishing earlier this autumn) caused some raised eyebrows by outlining in some detail that Sweden had decided upon an upgrade program. The report now make it seem like Lobitz’s information might be correct, and in that case what we are looking at is the introduction of the Leopard 2A7S as the Strv 123A/B. This would include the conversion of a first batch of 44 tanks with the L/55 A1 gun, updates to the fire control system (including new functionalities with advanced HE-rounds), and an auxiliary power unit (APU). Notable is that there is no mention of an active protection system. More engineering armoured vehicles are also in the plans.
Rocket artillery will be acquired, and in addition there will be studies whether these could be used for the anti-ship mission as well. Significant improvements are envisioned when it comes to the air defence units of the brigades and of the division. Loitering munitions and more UAS are in the cards. With these also come a general increase in ISTAR-capabilities, with more ISR-units and improvements to the sensor capabilities.
In general Sweden will maintain a mix of standing units and units which are to be mobilised, where the former provide the ability to react rapidly and buy time for the mobilisation of the later – which will continue to make up the majority of the force. A single new unit is proposed, a minor detachment in the north to focus on host nation support.
The Swedish Navy remains too small and new vessels are too far into the future. I covered it in detail over at Naval News, so go over there to read about the details. I will mention that while some have read the news that YSF 2030 (Visby 2.0/Next-Gen) will sport increased air defence capability making it a part of NATO’s integrated air and missile defence (NATO IAMD) to mean it will have missiles capable of intercepting ballistic missiles, it could also mean missiles in Aster 15-class and a serious radar able to feed the situational picture.
The proposal for the Swedish Air Force can be summed up in more airframes, missiles, and capabilities – with one crucial exception, which we will get to. More air-to-air missiles followed by more anti-ship and cruise missiles acquired in the 2031-2035 time span. A decision on the future of the fighters post-2040 will need to be made within this decade, and a new advanced trainer aircraft (ATA) to replace the 39C/D currently used in that role will have to be acquired. Instead, the 39C/D will be kept in service and developed further alongside 39E throughout the whole timespan and beyond 2035 to ensure a fleet of 120 multirole fighters – a significant step up from the ambition level just a few years ago when it seemed like the 39C/D was on its way out as soon as the 39E would be available in numbers.
An additional C-130J to bring the fleet up to five aircraft is also in the cards early in the period, and the Armed Forces is looking into the possibility of cooperating internationally and in particular among the Nordics when it comes to tactical transports. This sounds close enough to what Finnish Air Force commander major general Juha-Pekka Keränen mentioned earlier this autumn that I reached out to the general to ask if we are involved. The answer was that “there’s nothing official on the part of Finland, and we haven’t been discussing it in depth. The other three countries [Sweden, Norway, Denmark] are discussing possible synergies when it comes to training and operations. I’ve said that we are looking into the question, but that it needs to be looked at as a part of integrating with NATO and is more a question of logistics rather than Air Force operations.”
Sweden would also like to look into a further developed airborne sensor- and C2-capability in a Nordic cooperative framework, something they mention in the same sentence as S106 GlobalEye. If this is the Swedish Armed Forces way of saying that it would be nice if Finland would buy the GlobalEye and the Swedish government should contribute towards that goal is unclear to me, but it certainly is one read. The production line is still hot as far as I know since the Swedish order is yet undelivered, making it somewhat plausible that a Finnish order could be handled for a relatively modest price tag, but it would be a bit of a surprise if the money would be found for that kind of investment.
The big topic was however the helicopters. The fate of the NH 90 in Swedish service is to be retired early, and that include both the tactical transports and ASW/maritime helicopters. However, the Swedish fleet of Leonardo A109 LUH (locally known as HKP 15) are also to be retired starting during the 2024 to 2030 timespan and finishing up during the next five years. While the A109 is the smallest of the three Swedish helicopters, the fleet still number a total of 20 airframes (12 of the ‘army’-version HKP 15A and 8 of the naval-version HKP 15B). While often described as a training helicopter, Swedish helicopter pilots receive their basic training at the Heeresfliegerwaffenschule in Bückeburg, Germany, a move that has freed up the light helicopters for numerous operational missions where having a light helicopter available is more valuable than not having a medium helicopter. In particular for the Navy, the small fleet of HKP 15B provide important service day in and day out, including for ship-based operations.
For a Swedish Armed Forces that are supposedly growing as fast as they can, it’s hard not to notice the fact that while an additional twelve UH-60M are acquired to cover the nine NH 90TTH (HKP 14E) and nine new maritime helicopters are acquired to cover for the naval NH 90TTH (HKP 14F), that still sees the number of operational helicopters shrink from 53 (18 NH 90, 15 UH-60M, 20 A109) to 36 (27 UH-60M, 9 HKP 17?), meaning almost a third fewer helicopters available (32 %).
The answer is that the new helicopters will be more capable than the A109, but it is still clear that quite a number of missions won’t be carried out in the future. In particular the naval squadron will be hard-hit, as they lose almost half of their fleet during the next ten years. While some missions likely will be transferred to unmanned systems, it is still a significant loss in capability, in particular as the cost of average flight hours probably will rise with the fleet consolidated on larger and more expensive platforms.
As for what will replace the NH 90, as mentioned more UH-60M will be acquired for a total fleet of 27 Blackhawks, most likely equipping two squadrons, based in central and northern Sweden respectively. For the naval side of things, when the project was kicked off a year ago, the talk was that the alternative if the HKP 14F was withdrawn was to acquire MH-60R Seahawks for an all-Hawk-fleet. For this end, trials were to take place with the Romeo in the Baltic Sea to evaluate how the sensor suite works in Swedish conditions, something which as far as I know has not been confirmed to have taken place, but on the other hand the USS Kearsarge brought quite a few opportunities for that to happen during its cruise.
Now however it is stressed that a decision on the new maritime helicopter has not been taken. It might be that the realisation that thanks to US DoD bureaucracy there are no major synergies between an Army and a Navy helicopter has struck, or it might be that the Swedish Armed Forces wants to host a serious competition to get a better price tag on the eventual deal. It is also unclear whether the new helicopter will receive the localised sensor suite and mission systems of the HKP 14F, or whether an existing solution would be sought. In any case, the competition isn’t overly big, in particular as the NH 90NFH is a non-starter. The MH-60R was beat by the AW159 Wildcat in South Korea, while France will acquire the Airbus H160M Guépard for the naval role – though it may arrive a bit too late for the Swedes and I am unsure to what extent it will be ASW-capable in the version actually ordered (there certainly are concepts for fitting it with a sonar). Speaking of sonars, the ALFS of the MH-60R is from the same Thales FLASH-family of sonars as the Sonar 234 (Thales FLASH S) mountedon the HKP 14F, which might or might not be relevant to the discussion.
Since this blog is what it is, someone is bound to ask whether Finland would want additional NH 90? My understanding is that the current fleet is roughly what can fit under the budget, though considering the expected lack of enthusiasm on the market for used NH 90s I can certainly imagine Finland buying a small number of HKP 14E for close to scrap-value to use for spares. When asked the question about the ASW-helicopters last year I very confidently stated that there is no chance we could fit those inside the budget and I haven’t heard anyone even dreaming of getting a naval flying unit for Merivoimat. In the year since, however, I have in fact heard a person with insight voice their personal opinion that the Navy really need to acquire an airborne ASW-capability, so who knows. Hashtag bring back Pommituslentolaivue 6, as the cool kids say.
On the positive side, the helicopter squadrons will finally get mobile base units, allowing them to better use the strategic mobility when it comes to basing that is one of the inherent benefits of helicopters compared to fixed-wing aircraft.
While there is significantly more in the 66 pages of the unclassified document that we won’t look at in this short overview, there is one thing I can’t skip as the comments would tear this post apart.
The restaurants and catering on the military installations are planned to be brought back under the ownership and operation of the Swedish Armed Forces.
The world of military defence and national security isn’t standing still, so for the next three days we will take a look on a current topic from each of the three countries that make up NATO’s northern flank, kicking off with the northernmost one: Norway.
Norway needs modern tanks.
In my world, the statement is obvious enough that I had not thought I would write a post on the topic, but here we are.
Readers of the blog might be familiar with the fact that Norway has been running an acquisition program simply called “Nye stridsvogner” – which literally means “New tanks”. The international interest has largely come down to the fact that it has been a rather thorough one, including local trials pitting Europe’s main battle tank the Leopard 2 against South Korea’s K2 Black Panther, something that is quite rare in the world of tank procurement these days.
The current Norwegian tanks are ex-Dutch Leopard 2A4, sporting a rather limited amount of local modifications compared to your standard 2A4. This includes a larger storage box on the back of the turret, two added antennas (one of which is for the GPS), and sporting some non-standard side skirt configurations (including borrowing Leopard 1 light skirts from older spare stocks), as well as sporting the Dutch-standard FN MAG light machine gun on the turret roof instead of the MG 3 (the smoke dispenser were converted to German standard upon delivery). In line with other non-upgraded 2A4s, what once was one of the best tanks in the world is showing serious signs of obsolescence (T-62 making sad noises). The original plan was for a serious upgrade program to take place, aiming for something close to the 2A7V-standard. However, like many Leopard-operators, it was eventually found to be more cost-efficient to just buy new tanks.
The expectation was that the Leopard 2A7NO would beat the K2NO Black Panther, an order would be placed late this year or early 2023, and in a few years time the new tanks would have replaced the ex-Dutch vehicles. That expectation has hit a bump already earlier, with reports coming out that the K2NO did in fact perform rather well in the winter trials. This was followed by the Polish order for the K2 and K2PL, which meant a K2NO-order would not make Norway the sole operator of the exotic tank in NATO. At the same time, Germany was making a mess of its grand Zeitenwende in the eyes of many European countries while accompanying its aid to Ukraine with a significant amount of squabbling, eroding its status as the obvious solid supplier of tanks to western countries.
With the significant political and supply base/synergy benefits of the Leopard called into question, it suddenly it seemed we had a real race on our hands. It wasn’t necessarily that K2NO was significantly better than the 2A7NO, but as opposed to the 2A7NO which had a lot of capabilities bolted on to the original Cold War-era design, the K2NO benefited from having been designed with these in mind. That in turn provide significant benefits to growth potential for the future, as well as weight savings which are a non-trivial matter in a snowy mountainous country such as the Republic of Kor… I mean, Norway.
And then in late November, the curveball hit hard. Norwegian Chief of Defence, general Eirik Kristoffersen, recommended to the Norwegian government that the tank procurement should be cancelled, and the freed up funds should be channelled to fund helicopters and long-range fires for the Army. This was rather quickly leaked and confirmed by the general to the press, and was followed up by a rather spectacular in-fighting in full glare of publicity, with the Chief of Operational Headquarters lieutenant-general Yngve Odlo publicly stating that he does not see any alternative to tanks and want the procurement to go through. He gets backed up by the commander of the sole Norwegian brigade Brigade Nord, brigadier Pål Eirik Berglund, who talked to Norwegian daily and paper of record Aftenposten and stated that “Without new tanks, we will be missing an essential component of the combat capability we need.” While the commander of the Army, major-general Lars S. Lervik, is said to oppose the proposal made by Kristoffersen but in public remains loyal (at least to the extent that he declines to comment and stated that he gives his advice to the general, who then gets to say what he wants to the government), the commander of the armoured battalion (Panserbateljonen) lieutenant colonel Lars Jansen said that the first he heard of the whole thing was when media broke the story.
The kind way to put it, and I’ve seen some make that argument, is that this isn’t a big deal, but normal discussion among professionals when money is limited and choices need to be made about where to spend it, with what can best be described as pitting a 21st century land version of the Jeune École arguing for firepower and mobility against a more traditional school of thinking emphasising taking and holding terrain. However, it is hard to see that such a deep and open split between many of the most senior commanders of the force would be a sign of healthy debate – the question is after all about one of the most important acquisition programs of the joint force which has reached a very late stage, in particular when coupled with the readiness displayed by other senior officers to publicly go against their commander.
The idea to cancel the tanks and place the bet on long-range fires is somewhat in line with the media speculation fuelled by the Instagram Wars of the last few years, in which videos of UACs and loitering munitions or light infantry with anti-tank weapons hunting enemy tanks have spread like wildfire and led some to declare the tank as being dead (again, one might add). However, what experiences from Ukraine seem to indicate is that the increased lethality on the battlefield means what you really need to survive is more, not less, protection. This takes the shape both in heavier protection for infantry protection vehicles, logistics vehicles, and so forth, but also a need for tanks to spearhead assaults and perform the numerous roles they have done on the battlefield since at least the Second World War. While the Ukrainian defensive victories of the first months of the war might have been driven by comparatively light forces, there is a reason why Ukraine is begging for all tanks they can get their hands on.
However, there is a second part to the argument in the case of Norway which is geography, and that deserves to be looked at.
The Norwegian border region in the far north is called Finnmark, and like the areas south of the border in Finland and Sweden it is dominated by wilderness, relatively sparse infrastructure, and a population density which makes talking to plants seem like a reasonable past-time: 1.55/km2 in the case of Finnmark. Opposite the border in Northern Russia sits the Russia Northern Fleet, responsible for an important part of the Russian nuclear deterrent – and in particular for the majority of the ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) responsible for the second-strike capability – as well as air defences stretching out over the Arctic which are to try and stop US strategic bombers and cruise missiles in case of all-out (nuclear) war. The notion by some is that in case of war, Russia would want to push NATO forces further away from the border either through use of long-range fires or by invasion, that the Norwegian forces would be unable to stop the Russians from doing this without dying, and that the solution is to attrit the forces before stopping them, and counterattacking when NATO reinforcements have arrived.
I'm not sure about 2). It seems to me that he argues they would push their A2/AD capabilities into Finmark. This would require some land forces.
Keen readers of the blog know that I do find the idea of Russia trying to push the front westwards in the region a reasonable one. However, the Russian juggernaut is somewhat questionable, as the amount of Russian forces in the area relatively limited, sporting two motorised brigades (200th and 80th) as well as a marine infantry brigade, and Russia can’t risk overly large losses as that would open up the region to counterattacks. Of course, the Russians have shown the ability to mass forces in prioritised operational directions, but the north isn’t an easy place to fight in in the best of times, and in winter (which is long and really dark) it will become directly hostile unless you have trained and equipped for it.
Which two Finnish, a Swedish, and a Norwegian brigades has done (notable here that the Finnish brigades are peacetime training units, and there’s no telling how many and what kind of wartime units they are tasked to mobilise in case of war).
As such, an important thing here to begin with is that Norway is not going to fight alone. This is not something new, but the new part is that from day one Norway isn’t going to fight alone, but rather alongside Finnish and Swedish soldiers. This means that force levels can be expected to be more or less equal on both sides of the border – as long as Norway contribute the heavy brigade NATO has asked for. And while a strategic surprise might catch the Norwegian brigades in Troms (the country next-door to the west), any Russian advance would see angry Finns and Swedes charging down their flank.
Interlude: If Russia shifts troops north they can obviously outmatch the locals, but in that case NATO is also freed up to concentrate more of their forces in the region.
However, I have not seen the Norwegian debate reflect upon what it means to wait for reinforcements. The USMC is going tank-less (which might be an idea for a dedicated amphibious force, but not for a ground force), and the number of heavy armoured units available in NATO are in fact rather limited and can be expected to have their hands full further south. There simply aren’t many available. But perhaps even more questionable, the plan to rely on long-range fires and having someone else spearhead the counterattack in effect means that someone else will have to take the largest share of losses in the battle for Finnmark.
It is difficult to see this leading to anything but the it being Finnish and Swedish sons and daughters in the first line dying to protect the civilians of Vardø. And that raises the question which I have not seen in the Norwegian debate.
Can Norway morally choose to go to war in the high north without tanks? In particular if it is allied with Finland and Sweden?
And it must be said, if the Norwegian politicians and soldiers would be ready to simply let the population of eastern Finnmark suffer under occupation until someone else comes to their aid – and as we have seen that means torture, rape, and killings in the same vein of the Red Army of old – that decision is odd in the extreme.
The call for cancelling the tank program has so far been met with mixed responses from the politicians. The Norwegian minority government has stated that they indeed to continue with the process, while from the opposition there has been calls for more information.
Which is somewhat strange, as it isn’t like the idea to invest millions in new tanks is a whim by the minister of defence, but rather based on years of studies and recommendations. The basis for the process is the white paper Landmaktsutredningen from 2017-2018 on the future of the ground forces, and in the latest Fagmilitært råd of 2019 the then-Chief of Defence provided four different ambition levels with additional directions for land- or sea-emphasised recommendations for the future of the Norwegian forces, he did explicitly write that the addition of new tanks is seen as crucial regardless of which level of ambition and funding the politicians agree upon. While a new edition of Fagmilitært råd is in the works, it’s difficult to see which changes would have affected the tank-part of things to the extent that new information would suddenly appear.
Norway needs modern tanks, and the only thing waiting for more information or cancelling the deal would mean is higher cost, a more uncertain deterrence situation in the high north, and a spot on Norway’s reputation among allies.
In 2007 I did my conscript service with the Finnish marines of the Nyland Brigade. As a conscript, I didn’t see overly much of our battalion commander, though I do remember him holding a lecture on national security and defence as well as him beginning his answer to my post-lecture question with a content “Well, seems at least someone was paying attention”. Last week I again had the opportunity to meet him, though this time we met in a North Karelian forested bog which had been my home for the last few nights. Far from the archipelago in the archetypical sissi-terrain, the now-brigadier general noted with the same smile he had shown back in the days that it’s a small world. But how did I end up in this decidedly non-naval setting? Let’s back up a bit, because the story is a good example of how the Finnish Defence Forces goes about training their reservists and setting up a capable wartime force.
The majority of the FDF wartime force is based on reservists, and that include sizeable numbers of officers and NCOs in the reserve. The path to any (uniformed) role in the FDF (or the Finnish Border Guard for that matter) starts with conscript service. Annually around 21,000 conscripts are trained for a host of different roles, including NCO and officer training. The first six weeks is basic recruit training, followed by six week of general service branch training. Approximately ten weeks into the conscript service those destined for leadership roles get chosen, and once the general service branch training is over after twelve weeks the first NCO course kicks off – no prices for guessing this is also a six week period. This course, designated AU1 or AUK1, is common for all leaders, after which soon-to-be reserve officers are sent to Reserve Officer School for a fourteen week course while those destined for NCO-training take part in another six week course – AU2 or AUK2.
The beauty of the system is that as the FDF take conscripts onboard twice annually – early January and early July – the AU2 course finishes at the same time as the next group of conscripts enter the building. As such, the newly minted corporals will be responsible for the training of the enlisted soldiers over the next 165 days, with the reserve officer candidates joining the fun two months later in the middle stages of the general service branch training. The general service branch training for enlisted conscripts is followed by specialisation for six weeks, and then finally six weeks of honing your skills in working together as a unit. To translate this into an example, a conscript picked for infantry does six weeks of general infantry training, followed by six weeks of training to become e.g. a machine gunner, followed by six weeks of practicing what it means to function as a machine gunner in their wartime unit. The trained unit made up of enlisted, NCOs, and reserve officers, is then sent home into the reserve, and in case of being mobilised the majority of faces around you would likely be recognisable from your time as a conscript. Obviously, this would be fleshed out with professional officers and NCOs (who have also started their career as military leaders with AU1 and AU2 or RUK before applying to the National Defence University once out in the reserve), but in general you wouldn’t expect to see many professionals (outside of highly technical roles) in positions outside of headquarters. For a quick back of the envelope example using Janes’ numbers: the Army is sporting roughly 3,500 full-time personnel, while the wartime mobilised strength is approximately 160,000, i.e. less than 2.5 % of the mobilised force would be professionals. Take that ratio, and in a 300-strong company you are looking at less than eight professional officers and NCOs.
The example above is purposefully crude in the extreme – we are not going to start discussing classified details on wartime OOBs of the FDF here – but gives a hint on the importance of the trained wartime leaders in the reserve.
Personally I had my sights set on the landing craft skipper role when I first passed through the doors of the old czarist-era buildings of the brigade, but I would certainly have liked to combine that with the NCO course as well (combining skipper and reserve officer training is not an option available, at least back then). Unfortunately, I was not picked for one of the two slots then reserved for skippers on the marine NCO-course, which meant that after a year of service I went into the reserve with the rank of private and an experience that eventually would prove highly useful in getting a foot through the door into the workboat industry.
However, the overall wartime order of battle for the FDF is obviously a living creature. As a general rule of thumb, a decade can be thought of as a rough lifespan for any unit once transferred into the reserve. Within that lifespan, life happens for the individual reservists. People get educated or acquire life experience that can prove highly valuable, they can get positions in the civilian life where they have an important role in keeping society turning, or they get sick/hurt/die which means they no longer can fulfil their original roles. All of this means that people are regularly transferred between wartime roles, either due to changes in the unit they are placed in or due to changes in their own skill set. Dedicate all your free time to long-range shooting and sniper competitions, and suddenly you might find yourself a wartime sniper rather truck driver.
This obviously raises an issue for the FDF, as what do you do with people who served as enlisted when nineteen year old, but suddenly have invested enough time in voluntary defence or acquired civilian skill sets that would now make them suitable for leadership roles? Or with reservist NCOs that have acquired enough experience to warrant a shift to reserve officer service?
The answer for well over a decade has been complementary reservist courses, where every second year approximately 35 enlisted volunteers are hand-picked to undergo training to NCO, and every second year approximately 35 volunteering reservist NCOs are picked to undergo training to qualify as reserve officers.
And now we are getting back to why I was standing around in swamp in North Karelia.
The people handpicked to the courses are done so based on the needs of the FDF. “I want to get promoted” might work as an internal driver, but the opportunity is exclusive enough that the FDF has taken a strict line on the purpose of the course being to serve the needs of the service and not necessarily those of individual applicants. The stated aim is to train reservists so that they can be placed in more demanding wartime positions according to the needs of the FDF. As such, any application kicks off with having a suitable wartime duty and/or reservist “career path”, and getting letters of recommendation from your wartime superiors is certainly a benefit when applying.
In my case, having applied and failed to get accepted to the 2020 NCO course, a second try led to me getting accepted late last year to this year’s edition of the course, MIEHAU22.
The course has been handled by the Kainuu Brigade for some time already, and each course include three refresher exercises spread out over the year as well as a number of remote learning activities which included writing memos and preparing training checkpoints for the other students (as noted, the Finnish model means that any wartime leader is expected to be able to both train their unit and lead it into battle). The first exercise period also included a 12 minute running test (walking test for the older participants) to ensure an adequate level of fitness. ‘Adequate’ is the key word, as the limit for being allowed to take part in the course was 2,300 meters in 12 minutes. The focus on the course was decidedly not on building up the physical fitness, as while a number of physical tests did play a role in the final grading and a certain basic level of fitness is required to get through the course, the relatively sparse time available was dedicated to tasks more difficult to take care of in your (civilian) spare time.
The important part to understand here is that once you are out in the reserve with the NCO-label stamped next to your name in the FDF database, there will be no difference in the minds of the Defence Forces as to whether you went the conscript or reservist NCO-track. As such, there is the requirement to pack twelve weeks of conscript training into a significantly more compact package. There is also no unique “Reservist-NCO”-course, but the curriculum is that of the standard infantry one. This means that exams and grading are lifted straight out of the conscript course, and the days on the brigade are optimised to provide both ample training and leadership opportunities as well as theoretical lectures. It also means that include is not only the NCO-part of things, but also learning how the Finnish infantry platoon fights, as whoever pulls out your personal file and looks at the note ‘NCO – infantry’ has to be able to trust that you can execute on everything that designation holds – including both the ‘Infantry’ and the ‘NCO’ part of the job. The service branch training included not only theory and a written exam, but also taking part in a major exercise hosted by the Kainuu Brigade – METSO 22 – where the students got to put theory into practice both when it comes to leadership and infantry skills.
And it was in the midst of this that the general decided to come and take a look at our tent.
A few days later I then officially graduated together with another 30 students of our group, and is now qualified as infantry NCOs within the FDF. Notable is that for both conscript- and reservist-trained NCOs the NCO-qualification is the big thing, and in case the FDF want you to do something else as an NCO they will just throw in an appropriate mode of retraining. Whether or not you are an NCO is however a deal-breaker for many postings and work opportunities within the FDF.
So how was the experience? As said, it was a rather intensive one. But perhaps the most significant impression was that of being acutely aware of being in a room full of hand-picked individuals determined to make the most out of what is a rather unique opportunity. This not only was a strong motivation for me on a personal level, but also fed into an excellent esprit de corps where everyone was helping each other and wishing each other on. This was also evident in what became our unofficial motto – “It’s always possible to give up” (“Cedere SemperPotest”, according to people with more Latin skills than I possess). Taking part in a volunteer course, no-one will force you to go through with it. At the end of the day, you just have to decide whether you will carry on or just give up and go home. And we carried on.
I must also mention that the Kainuu Brigade really did an excellent job and put some serious effort and resources into the course, with us having a surprising number of officers teaching our motley crew the ropes when it came to leadership, training, and infantry skills. It was evident that having run the course several times already, they knew what worked and what didn’t. Getting to see my ‘local’ brigade and learning how they plan to fight in the harsh conditions of the North (which keen readers know is a topic of interest to me) was an added bonus on a personal level.
For those thinking about signing up, I certainly can recommend it. There are planned changes up ahead with MPK taking a larger role, something possibly leading to more spots opening up and changes to the structure, so keep your eyes open. Ensuring you got the fitness to run the required distance is a no-brainer, and while there wasn’t any single obvious factor determining who had been accepted, getting the reference letters from one’s wartime superior(s) does seem to help. And as mentioned the first step is getting a wartime NCO/officer posting, so start with trying to get that part sorted out before dropping off your application!
Den nationella underofficerskursen för manskap i reserven 2022 avslutades i Kajana idag.
The Finnish NCO-corps in the reserve has a proud history, and following the course I’m not only proud and humble to be part of that chain, but also happy to say my trust in the quality of the lower echelons of our military leadership is strong. The heritage obligates.
(and as a side-note, it’s always nice when a general compliments how well your squad has managed to camouflage your tent)
The Ukrainian liberation of Kherson has been yet another success on the side of the defenders in the war, though it is also easy to assume it will lead to something of a pause on the southern part of the frontline. The withdrawal to the left bank of the Dnipro – even if the losses to heavy equipment are on the scale expected – will still put the battered Russian forces behind one of the more formidable natural obstacles in Europe, and any Ukrainian assault over the river will require either serious amphibious equipment, a lot of luck and daring, or preferably both. The alternative for a continued offensive in the direction of either Crimea or the Sea of Azov is to do so east of where the river turn north and head down the Zaporizhzhia – Melitopol axis.
However, Ukraine just might have found an alternative option. Or at least they might be pretending to have done so, which at the end of the day might in fact prove more or less as useful.
Reports have namely come in that the Ukrainian forces have landed on the Kinburn peninsula, a narrow peninsula stretching out to the west and forming the southernmost part of the Dniprovska gulf, which sees the river outlet situated in the easternmost end of the gulf. Exactly what is happening is somewhat open, but there seem to be Ukrainian light troops on the move, with Herois’ke being reported as having been liberated. And it is a development that causes some major headaches for the Russians. The obvious one is that we have Ukrainians on the left bank of the Dnipro, something that they very much would prefer not to be the case in the south. If the Ukrainian really are in Herois’ke to stay, it start to open up alternatives.
From the peninsula it is roughly 60 km in a straight line to Olesjky and the southern end of the Antonovskiy Bridge. The bridge is seriously battered, but if the Ukrainians can secure both bridgeheads it is still likely the easiest location to set up a functioning logistics train over the southern stretches of the Dnipro. And coming from southwest would likely flank the Russian positions, as it is safe to assume that these are oriented towards the river banks. An even bolder option which really would get Kremlin worked up is if Ukrainian soldiers started pouring out of the peninsula eastwards, where it is just 130 km to Armjansk and Crimea.
Now, wars have a tendency to be far more complex than just drawing arrows on a map. If Ukraine want to break out of the peninsula with any kind of force, they first need to get it over there, then supply it over the water and by a single road, while advancing along a narrow front which spans at maximum approximately five kilometers across. The Canadian advance on Beveland during the Battle of the Scheldt in 1944 is a good example of the issues that can be expected – though in that case it was an attacker trying to enter a peninsula along a narrow front. As such, is a Ukrainian offensive here even a theoretical possibility?
It might be, depending on a number of factors. If the Russian forces in the region are second- and third-tier garrison forces without much in the way of tactical and operational mobility a quick Ukrainian offensive might gather enough momentum to sweep them away. Some have argued that the Ukrainians can’t go on the offensive without armoured or mechanised units, but in this case against an enemy that likely hasn’t had time to entrench themselves the ability to operate quickly and with a limited demand on the stretched supply lines might make light infantry a more interesting option. Infantry certainly is able to conduct offensive operations as demonstrated throughout history in general and this conflict in particular, especially if distances are manageable and the indirect fire support is plentiful. And that’s another interesting issue about Kinburn – the Ukrainian artillery doesn’t have to cross the water to be able to provide fire support. Rather it is possible to stand on the northern shore of the gulf and support the advancing troops for quite some time, including until the frontline would have been pushed well enough east that a supply node in the westernmost part of the peninsula would be relatively safe. This is a huge factor when looking at what kind of supplies Ukraine would have to be able to ferry across the bay to be able to keep going forward.
Another key detail which the possible operation again highlights is the relatively sparse nature of the battlefield. The number of troops involved is huge for a European post-WWII conflict, but so is the length of the frontline. If the Ukrainian light infantry starts moving quickly in gaps behind the frontline, the Russians will have to take action. And that might be the whole point. If Russia starts to shift serious forces south, that might open up possibilities on other fronst, such as finding a nice less-than-well-guarded position for a river crossing. As such, operating against Kinburn might be a fixing attack, or even just a raid in which a limited unit strikes terror and wait for the Russian tanks to come rumbling down the road, before slipping away back over the sea.
It remains to be seen what Ukraine plans to do with the operation, if there in fact is an operation ongoing at all which so far isn’t completely confirmed. Still, it does seem to indicate that the Ukrainian counteroffensive hasn’t run out off steam just yet, and that they want to capitalise on the momentum in some form or another. It is even possible that the Ukrainians themselves hasn’t decided on the fate of the landing just yet, planning to press the move in case Russia doesn’t respond or then retreat from Kinburn and attack elsewhere in case Russia shifts serious numbers of troops south. In any case this further seem to disprove the somewhat strange notion that the winter would lead to a stop in offensive operations. People living in places where winter occur annually usually have methods to keep performing even if the temperature drops, and as long as other factors doesn’t come into play (such as e.g. ammunition shortages following the fall offensives) winter often can provide better conditions for offensive operations than spring or fall.
Let me get this one out of the way straight away: I would very much like Israel to ship air defence systems (and other lethal weaponry) to Ukraine, much in the same way I would like other countries to keep doing so and increase both volume and complexity of their weapons packages.
However, at the same time I don’t think that necessarily reflect on whether Israel is a reliable supplier of arms and other critical equipment to the Finnish Defence Forces.
Let’s start with why the question suddenly occupies the mind of a number of Finnish defence-minded people. Finnish-Israeli arms trade stretches back decades, and while during the Cold War much of the trade went from Finland to Israel, with the growth of the Israeli arms industry the trade flows have largely been reversed during the last few decades. Both countries see eye to eye on a number of important issues when it comes to national defence, including the heavy reliance on national conscription, doctrinal similarities emphasising superior training, tactics, and high tempo to take and keep the initiative, as well as a down-to-earth attitude which emphasise things that work (and keep working in field conditions) rather than new and flashy solutions. Both countries have also been rather happy to keep a somewhat low profile when it comes to which capabilities are found and where they are acquired from. This is however changing with an increased openness on the part of the FDF when it comes to strategic signalling as well as a more open policy on the part of the Israelis (partly due to the need for marketing by the companies themselves, partly due to the Israeli state opening up the traditionally very strict secrecy operational systems and units).
Two key acquisitions have thrown the spotlight on Israel as a supplier among Finnish defence analysts: the choice of the Gabriel 5 as the PTO 2020 anti-ship missile and narrowing the ITSUKO high-altitude ground-based air defence program down to two Israeli systems. With both of these programs being of strategic importance for the FDF as a whole, the question of whether Israel can be counted on as a reliable supplier is certainly a valid one.
The controversy over Ukraine stems from a number of issues. Ukraine has already in the years leading up to the February invasion expressed interest in certain Israeli systems, mainly armed drones and the Iron Dome rocket-defence system. These were turned down, as were requests by the Baltic states to ship SPIKE anti-tank missiles to Ukraine in much the same way they had been shipping US-made Javelins. Following the outbreak of hostilities, there has been renewed requests both from third parties wanting to ship Israeli made systems from their own arsenals to Ukraine, as well as directly from Ukraine. The last round was caused by the Russian terror bombings which heavily feature Iranian-made systems. This led to an official Ukrainian request for ground-based air defence systems covering Iron Beam, Iron Dome, Barak-8, Patriot, David’s Sling, and Arrow, which was again turned down by the Israeli MoD.
This has turned up the volume with accusations flying that Israel has sided with Putin against the democratic world, and while the questions of security of supply is a relevant one, that statement is plainly false.
Israeli aid has so far included helmets, flak vests, 100+ tons of humanitarian supplies, a field hospital, and there’s rumours about (limited) assistance with intelligence from both the state and private companies. In addition Israel has voted against Russia in UNGA Resolution ES-11/1 as well as in the follow-up ES-11/2, ES-11/3, and ES-11/4. Yes, I would very much like to see direct military aid as well, but the Israeli aid package is in line with what e.g. Japan is doing, and I do not see a big debate on whether Japan is a traitor to the free world, despite Tokyo also having some interesting air defence (and other) systems that would come in handy for Ukraine.
It deserve to be kept in mind that the turn in arms policy vis-a-vis Ukraine happened very quickly in the West – a year ago artillery and anti-tank weaponry was largely unthinkable despite a number of people calling for policy reversals either across the board or at least domestically (a position which I quite honestly can’t understand Finland having taken back then, but that’s a topic for another discussion). We still have a less-than-impressive showing in certain supposed powerhouses in Europe, and it’s easy to lose sight of just how Eurocentric the change in fact has been. Besides the European countries, it really is only the US, Canada, and Australia which have pitched in and supplied heavier military equipment. This is despite the fact that many of the ex-Soviet systems employed by Ukraine are in fact found in significant numbers also outside those nations.
Behind the scenes, Israeli refusal to go head-to-head with Russia most likely stems from two factors with a third thrown in for good measure with the advent of Iranian systems on the battlefield. The first is the significant number of Russian jews (as well as Russian non-jews granted citizenship due to marriage) living in Israel. Exactly how many there are depends on how you count as Soviet jews, Russian jews, jews that used to live in Russia, and so forth, aren’t always synonyms. Obviously what they have in common is that for some reason or the other they have chosen to leave Russia for Israel, which means they might or might not have warmer feelings towards Russia than your average Israeli. However, in a country that is currently headed for its seventh election in ten years, potentially upsetting approximately one million citizens is a risk few parties are willing to take. That’s not to say there’s one million who supports Russia, as evident by Minister of Diaspora Affairs Nachman Shai (born in Jerusalem to parents who had emigrated from Russia and Poland respectively) who went on Twitter and broke ranks to call for arms deliveries, but it certainly puts a bit of a break on things (at least until after the upcoming elections).
This morning it was reported that Iran is transferring ballistic missiles to Russia. There is no longer any doubt where Israel should stand in this bloody conflict. The time has come for Ukraine to receive military aid as well, just as the USA and NATO countries provide.
A second and possibly even more important issue has been the role of Russia in Syria. Israel and Russia has reached an understanding when it comes to operations in Syria, under which Israel has been able to strike Iranian arms shipments to Syria and Hezbollah without much interference from Russia. The importance of this agreement can be discussed, as it is questionable to what extent Russia would have been able to stop Israel even if they wanted to (in particular following reports of the withdrawal of at least some long-range systems from Syria to cover losses in Ukraine), but it certainly has made Israeli air strikes more convenient.
With Iran appearing as a major supplier of long-range strike systems to Russia – a sentence I did not foresee ever writing – Israeli interests are again at a crossroad. On one hand, Russia cooperating more closely with a country Israel sees as an existential threat could be seen to support Israeli aid to Ukraine. At the same time, the question is what kind of aid and systems could be going from Russia to Iran? Especially in light of the ongoing JCPOA renegotiation (aka the Iran nuclear deal) which Israel is afraid will end poorly from their point of view, trying to ensure any kind of political leverage vis-a-vis Moscow to be able to stop arms transfers to Iran – which might be unlikely as long as the war in Ukraine rages on, but on the other hand Iran is unlikely to send ballistic missiles to Russia just from pure generosity – in particular with regards to e.g. the long-rumoured Su-35 deal is likely a top priority in Jerusalem. That however only works if Israel believes it has enough of a leverage to actually be able to convince Russia to come around to the Israeli point of view, which is far from certain given the Kremlin seem ever more desperate for every passing month (and let’s just say the number of agreements kept by Russia after they no longer seem to serve their intermediate interests is somewhere between ‘none’ and ‘hen’s teeth’). As such, I would not be overly surprised to see an Israeli reversal of its position on arms deliveries to Ukraine within the next twelve months. That might not be the answer Ukraine is hoping for, and as noted I personally don’t believe it to be good policy, but the fact is it isn’t any different from that of most countries.
However, leaving aside the question of proper Ukraine policy for a while (we’ll let the realists and constructivists fight it out on Twitter), and getting back to the question of whether Israel is a reliable arms supplier to Finland, I’m inclined to say they are. Crucially, there’s a significant difference between initiating new deals and follow-on sales/support to existing customers. It is notable that Israeli support to e.g. Azerbaijan was not cut off even when Azerbaijan started the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War against Armenia – which after all was Russia’s treaty-ally (speaking of making deals with Russia…). The morality of that decision can be discussed, but it is in line with Israeli arms trade policy which always has placed a premium on ensuring the customer is satisfied, as when you aren’t overly open about your deals, you can’t rely on glossy paper for marketing. In the particular case of Finland, as mentioned there is also the long ties and understanding issues such as having strong and unpredictable (read: aggressive) neighbours who might or might not want to erase you from the map. The Finnish deals in recent years also hold significant value for reference purposes and as part of their reputation as being able to compete with the best in a country known for valuing capability. With Israeli arms exports being worth 11.3 Bn USD last year (that’s an HX-program each year for my Finnish readers) and making up almost 7% of the total exports of the country, it’s a reputation they can ill afford to lose.
Of course, we are strongly moving into the hypothetical. An argument can certainly be made that there’s nothing guaranteeing that if Finland gets dragged into a conflict there isn’t an Israeli election coming up at the same time as there is a perfect storm with regards to Russian and Israeli regional interests in the Middle East. Still, you can also make an argument to the contrary that the reputational hit taken now and Israel’s slowness in changing policy could actually make deliveries to Finland more likely as the export decision has been made before any crisis, and that even if the worst would come, Finland is known to strive to always procure wartime stocks of munitions and spares, making the impact of any feet-dragging in follow-on supplies smaller. Six of one, half a dozen of the other.
Perhaps the most important realisation all around during the past eight months is how difficult arms procurement really can be in wartime regardless of where the supplier sits. German behaviour with regards to heavy weapons, the possibility of a Trump 2.0 in the White House, the artisanal production runs of expensive weapons from many suppliers, limited stocks for many countries, and overall policy choices by many countries both in Europe and elsewhere has again raised lessons that really should have been learned in the 40’s – namely that buying weapons when everyone is gearing up for war is difficult. Policy changes can also come quickly in either direction (the controversial Israeli policy was Finnish policy as well right up to 24 February, when it changed literally overnight), raising the question which country really can be seen as a reliable supplier? Inside NATO the situation should hopefully be better than outside, but as mentioned the size of the production runs and ability to scale up production when facing a crisis is unfortunately not where one would want it to be. At the same time, domestic production isn’t as viable as it used to be due to the cost of modern weapons development and the general trend of globally distributed production chains.
There isn’t an easy (and cheap) answer to these question, but my personal opinion is that I do not believe that buying Israeli represent a measurably higher risk compared to most European or US suppliers. The risk might be different, but I believe recent events have shown that risk-free options are few and far between.