Ballistic Missile Defence for Pohjanmaa?

As was noted earlier Finland has requested the export of quad-packed ESSM surface-to-air missiles for fitting in the Mk 41 vertical launch system (VLS). In itself the request was rather unsurprising, but I did find it odd that the Navy was asking about the canister designed for the Mk 41 and not the dedicated Mk 56 ESSM VLS.

Operation Iraqi Freedom is the multi-national coalition effort to liberate the Iraqi people, eliminate IraqÕs weapons of mass destruction, and end the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Mk 41 Strike length launchers in action, as the destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) fires a TLAM cruise missile against Iraqi targets in 2003. Source: US Navy via Wikimedia Commons

This week a key part of the answer was revealed, as the DCSA report for the Mk 41’s themselves was released. The Finnish request is for four 8-cell Mk 41, of the full-long ‘Strike length’ version. This is the same as carried by US Navy (and Japanese) destroyers and cruisers, as well as by a number of NATO frigates. The options for the strike length launcher include a large variety of US-built surface-to-air missiles, as well as the TLAM (Tomahawk) long-range cruise missile and the VL-ASROC anti-submarine weapon (a rocket which carries a parachute-retarded anti-submarine torpedo out to a considerable range). The downside is the size. To fit the large missiles, the cells are 7.6 m long. The logical choice if one want to fit Mk 41 solely for use with ESSM’s into a corvette is the 5.2 m Self-defense module. In between the two is the 6.7 m Tactical length cells, which add the SM-2 long-range SAM and the ASROC, but is unable to fit the TLAM or the SM-6/SM-3/SM-2 Blk IV (SM-2 with a booster). The SM-2 Blk IV and SM-3 are able to target ballistic missiles, while the SM-6 is a longer-range missile against airborne targets.

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Concept render showing the key combat systems of the vessel. Note the placement of the surface-to-air missiles. Source: Finnish MoD

Now, as late as last week I said in a discussion that it is not possible to fit the Strike length cells on the Pohjanmaa-class, as they are too long for a corvette. In all renders so far the VLS cells have been fitted in front of the superstructure, on deck level. Considering the low draft of the Pohjanmaa-class corvettes, just over 3 meters, it is doubtful whether the cells can be fitted within the confines of the bow. However, if the single cell is mounted along the centreline as opposed to across it, and if it gets a stepped platform a’la Type 26, it just might be doable (or a reshuffle with the Mk 41’s moving into the superstructure and the SSM’s moving to the foredeck/mission bay/further forward/aft/somewhere else).

So why would the Navy be interested in a cell that is two sizes larger than the missile they are planning on pairing it with? The answer is likely that they want to keep all options open. While I very much doubt that the ASROC would fit Finnish doctrine, the TLAM could open up new possibilities. However, if the Defence Forces want more cruise missiles, buying more of whatever will replace the JASSM on the winner of the HX-program is likely the better option (or alternatively buying a long-range weapon for the M270 MLRS). However, the possibility to provide some measure of protection against ballistic missiles might be of interest. While it certainly would be a major undertaking, the vessels will be in service for a long time and “fitted for but not with” is a time-honored tradition when it comes to naval shipbuilding. It should be noted that all kinds of ballistic missile defences are politically highly sensitive. Analysts have noted the similarities to the acquisition of the multirole F/A-18 Hornet back in the day, where even if the fighters were capable of flying ground attack missions, political considerations meant that the capability was only taken into use at a later stage, with the MLU2 mid-life upgrade.

The strike length cells also open up the possibility to fit some interesting anti-ship missiles in the future, as both the LRASM and the JSM are currently being tested in configurations suitable for launch from the Mk 41. Being able to swap out a number of SAM’s for more anti-ship missiles might be an interesting option at some point down the road (or at least interesting enough that the Navy doesn’t want to close the door just yet).

I will admit that the latest development have taken me by surprise. However, it does seem like the Navy is serious about fitting the vessels with systems that will allow them to field firepower to rival some significantly larger vessels. The question is whether the budget will live up to the ambitions?

A Little Something about “Jägare”

While the Finnish and Swedish armed forces in general are rather similar, the languages they speak differ. And not only in the obvious difference between Swedish and Finnish (and Swedish), but key words and phrases differ as well. While the difference between engineers (ingenjörer) and pioneers (pioneerit) is largely quaint and shouldn’t cause too much trouble, the word jaeger (jägare/jääkäri) is another matter completely. In the Finnish Defence Forces the word has several different, sometimes slightly contradictory meanings. My personal rank is that of a jääkäri, which simply translates to private. But it is also used to describe different kinds of infantry, such as mechanised (panssarijääkäri), rangers (erikoisrajajääkäri), or urban (kaartinjääkäri). Historically, it has also described the original Finnish jääkärit trained in Germany during WWI.

In Swedish the word has much narrower use, describing ranger-style army special forces. However, there has also been a significant shift in both the mission and tactics used compared to the pre-2000 Swedish jägare, so when Swedish defence blogger Jägarchefen wrote a post describing the modern Arméns Jägarbataljon, I asked for permission to run the translated version as a guest post.

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An interesting discussion took place on Twitter 10FEB2018, a discussion I followed from the side. Part of the discussion came to focus on how airmobile and ranger units could be used in an armed conflict. Airmobile units I will happily leave to the professional officers of the 31. Battalion to recount. However, it might be suitable to describe how today’s, sole, ranger battalion would operate in, i.e. Arméns Jägarbataljon (AJB, the Swedish Army Ranger Battalion), the wartime 193. Ranger Battalion.

The, unfortunately, stubborn picture in the Swedish Defence Forces in general and in the Army in particular regarding how the rangers fight is based on how the Norrlandsjägarbataljon’s (NjBat’s) and Jägarbataljon syd (Jbat Syd) would have fought during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Their battle would take the form of direct action followed by a decisive battle behind enemy lines. In other words, the battalions were given a geographical area, which was further divided into company-, platoon-, and squad areas. Within these the so called direct action would take place, simply put different forms of ambushes against predetermined targets such as supply vehicles during a prolonged time. The battle would then transform to interdiction once the divisions of the Swedish Army would launch their all-out offensive aimed at destroying the enemy formations. During this interdiction-phase the ranger battalion would stop all enemy movements within their given area, and thereby support the main corps-level effort.

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A ranger squad from the Ranger Battalion in terrain typical to Northern Sweden. Source: Jimmy Croona/Försvarsmakten

The overarching thought with NJbat and Jbat Syd was partly to ‘tax’ the predetermined targets, and partly to create a threat that the enemy would need to allocate resources to counter, thereby reducing the units available at the actual frontline. Together, this would allow for own combat units to, possibly, achieve numerical superiority in their battles.

This idea is unfortunately very much alive in schools, centras, and commands. In different kinds of wargames the symbol for ranger battalion is often placed in a number of squares on the map, where it then spends the rest of the time while the tactics is played out elsewhere. In principle this is correct for the tactics of days gone by, but in no way corresponding to today’s sole ranger battalion. Today’s ranger battalion is in no way tied to a certain geographical area as NjBat or Jbat Syd were, but is instead used where the capabilities of the unit provides the greatest benefit to the common fight.

How does the operations then benefit the common fight? Before solving more complex missions, i.e. those on high tactical, operational, or strategic levels, a thorough analysis of the coming enemy is always conducted. Own vulnerabilities are always identified, so that they can be protected, but also the vulnerabilities of the adversary is mapped out. These include so called critical vulnerabilities, which might have to be influenced. Obviously, the adversary will in some cases, like us, be aware of his vulnerabilities, while in other cases, like us, he will be unaware of these. If he is aware of his critical vulnerabilities, he will naturaly allocate resources to protect these.

If these critical vulnerabilities are influenced they will create ripples, which makes other parts of the enemy vulnerable. An interesting fact, which often but not always hold true, is that the critical vulnerabilities found deep within terrain held by the opposing force usually create bigger ripple effects if influenced than those closer to the frontline. It is these targets, critical vulnerabilities deep behind enemy lines, that today’s Swedish Ranger Battalion is set to work against. This also means that the targets might be highly prioritised, and that the enemy might allocate sophisticated and sometimes extensive resources to their protection.

As such, today’s sole ranger battalion is miles apart from its predecessors. The unit isn’t tied to specific geographic areas, but is used deep behind enemy lines against the critical vulnerabilities that have been identified as having the potential to affect the outcome of the battle. How the battle is fought and with what unit size is not defined in set doctrinal rules, but rather decided on the basis of the specific target in question (the critical vulnerability). It follows that the unit isn’t meant to be used in the role it’s often wargamed in in schools, centras, and commands, i.e. direct action along roads during prolonged times.

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All Swedish rangers get basic mountain warfare training, provided by the officers of the dedicated Mountain Platoon. Source: Jimmy Croona/Försvarsmakten

A secondary effect of influencing the critical vulnerabilities is that the enemy will have to allocate resources to protect their rear areas, perhaps in even larger numbers than before. This is due to the fact that it isn’t possible to predict where and how the rangers will operate in the same way as earlier. This will indirectly tie down resources to counter the threat and create a more beneficial numerical situation along the frontline, in addition to the direct effect on the critical vulnerabilities.

I will argue that the lack of this knowledge means future higher level officers, and to a certain extent current ones, will fail to understand how a highly capable instrument should be used in their planning and in the conduct of the battle. An instrument that in my opinion can play a part in deciding the outcome of the common fight.

Finally, it should be noted that this post is written in a very general way to not disclose strengths, weaknesses, or tactics. As such, no classified information is touched upon in this post.

Have a good one! // Jägarchefen

F-16 down in Israel

News broke this morning that during the night an Israeli two-seat F-16 had come down in Israel (pictures). This chain of events started with an UAV entering Israeli airspace, which was then intercepted and shot down by an Israeli AH-64 Apache (‘Peten’/‘Saraph’ being the local designations for the AH-64A and D respectively). Four Israeli two-seat F-16’s then launched a retaliatory strike against targets in Syria, said to be the “Iranian control system” responsible for launching the UAV. Most reports seem to agree that this was located at the Syrian T4 airbase, which has played a prominent role in the Syrian war.

So far the official Israeli reports seems to avoid the use of the phrase “shot down”, instead opting for a more general “crashed”. However, while not impossible, it does seem unlikely that the F-16 would have crashed due to other reasons.

The official Israeli statements also include references to Iran being responsible. 20 minutes after the tweet above, IDF spokesperson Lt.Col. Conricus stated that “accurate hits of Iranian UAV control facility confirmed.”

The site of the Israeli crash site is located in the northwestern parts of the country (not close to Golan as some early reports indicated), at the eastern entrance to Kibbutz Harduf. The kibbutz is approximately midway between Haifa and Nazareth, and just 10 kilometers north of the major Israeli air base of Ramat David. One of the squadrons at the base is the 109th “The Valley Squadron”, which flies two-seat F-16D ‘Barak‘. While the crashed aircraft certainly could be from the squadron, it should be remembered that Israel is tiny, and the plane could easily be from another base as well.

Update 11:00 GMT +2: The aircraft is in fact a F-16I ‘Sufa‘, the highly modified Israeli version of the F-16D Block 50/52. This is clear following the publication of AFP pictures by NRK.no.  The F-16I is the IDF/AF’s aircraft of choice for long-distance strikes against ground targets, and the air force operates around 100 fighters of the version (out of an original order for 102). For the past ten years it has been a mainstay of Israeli strikes in Gaza and abroad, and is likely to be the most advanced version of the F-16 in operation anywhere when it comes to the air-to-ground role. That it was chosen for the raid against T4 does not come as a surprise.

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An F-16I ‘Sufa’ in the colours of the 107th “Knights of the Orange Tail” squadron at the Israeli Air Force Museum. Source: Own picture

Syria has earlier been happy to throw up anything they got against Israeli strikes over their territory (including the obsolete S-200), but so far the only tangible results have been the downing of some guided munitions/missiles. Crucially, it seems that the Russian air defence systems have not taken part in the defence of Syrian territory, and that Israel and Russia in fact have a rather working de-escalatory system in place. While intervention by Russian systems can’t be ruled out, a more likely explanation is that throwing up “massive amounts” of anti-aircraft fire and possibly some older SAM’s eventually got lucky.

Edit 12:06 GMT+2: Haaretz journalist quoting anonymous Israeli sources stating that it was a Syrian surface-to-air missile that brought down the F-16I.

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F-16D ‘Barak’ from The Valley Squadron. Source: Aldo Bidini via Wikimedia Commons

In retaliation to the downing of the Israeli aircraft Israel struck 12 targets inside Syria, describing them as including both Syrian air defence installations and Iranian military targets. The nature of the strikes are not described in detail, and could potentially include both ground-based systems (artillery and surface-to-surface missiles) as well as air strikes. While this certainly could escalate, it is unlikely that Syria and/or Iran are interested in a full-blown war with Israel at the current time, considering that the Syrian Civil War is still going on at a quite intense pace. However, as has been seen before, wars can happen despite no one really being interested in them. On the positive side, the fact that both pilots are safe inside Israel probably triggered a significantly more limited retaliation than what would have been the case if they had come down inside Syria and been captured there.

Edit 21:36 GMT+2: So far a number of pictures claimed to show missile debris have appeared, including the ones above. These show a missile fired by some version of the 2K12 Kub (SA-6), a system which scored major successes in the Yom Kippur War 1973, but which was decisively defeated by the Israelis nine years later in operations over Lebanon 1982.

The pictures above, though said to show a S-200, are most likely from S-125 (SA-3 Goa), an even older system which was introduced in the early 1960’s. If either of these two systems were involved in the downing there was probably a significant amount of luck involved. One possibility is that the Israeli aircraft simply ran out of energy trying to dodge a large number of missiles, some sources have stated that more than 20 missiles were fired against the strike package.

Interestingly enough, Israeli sources stated that the air defence sites targeted were S-200 and Buk-sites, though so far no pictures of Buk-missiles have so far surfaced (at least not to my knowledge).

IDF has released video said to show the downing of the Iranian UAV as well as the destruction of the command vehicle. In addition, pictures of parts of the wreckage have also been released. The wreck matches the UAV shown in the released video, and is serialled either ‘006’ or ‘900’.

While the downing of an Israeli aircraft in itself won’t change the balance of the air war, this was shown clearly by the massive wave of strikes against a variety of target following the downing, it is still a significant propaganda victory for Syria/Iran/Hezbollah. As such, the greatest danger is that it could potentially cause one or several of the actors to try and push their luck further, causing a downward spiral no one really want at the moment.

No Finnish Harpoon/ESSM-order (at least for now)

As the headline says, yesterday’s big news from the naval sector is not that Finland has ordered the Harpoon and/or the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM). In fact, what has happened is that the US offers for two major Finnish naval programs have become open knowledge. This happened as the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency has requested clearance for the sale of 112 RGM-84Q-4 Harpoon Block II+ ER anti-ship missiles (of which twelve are of the older RGM-84L-4 Harpoon Block II version which will be upgraded) and 68 ESSM missiles. These kinds of pre-clearances are not uncommon, and allow for a rapid deal following a (potential) procurement decision by a foreign customer (thanks to Aaron Mehta for providing insights about US export).

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

The background is two ongoing Finnish projects: the Pohjanmaa-class multirole corvettes and the PTO 2020 heavy surface-to-surface missile. The PTO 2020 will be found aboard the Pohjanmaa-class as well as replacing the current MTO 85M (roughly a RBS 15 Mk II) on the Hamina-class as part of their MLU as well as in truck-mounted batteries. As the MLU for the Hamina is very much underway already, the winner of the PTO 2020 will be announced during the first half of this year. I am still standing by my opinion that the RBS 15 Mk 3+ and the NSM are the two frontrunners, and would be somewhat surprised if Harpoon won the trophy (and even more so if the Exocet MM40 Block 3 did, though everything is possible).

The Pohjanmaa-class is still in the design stage, with the main contract(s) to be signed this year, and the building phase to start next year. The armament shown on renders include two quadruple mounts of PTO 2020 amidships, the new lightweight torpedo from Saab, the BAE/Bofors 57 mm Mk II deck-gun, and a battery of vertical launch system-cells (VLS). The two main VLS-systems on the market are the French Sylver and the US Mk 41 (a modernized version called Mk 57 is also available, and mounted on the Zumwalt-class). Both are available in different lengths, with the shortest Sylver, the A43 (an earlier A35 concept seems to have been dropped), being around 4.3 m long (or rather, high), and the shortest Mk 41 being 5.2 m long. The 8-cell module of the Sylver is also smaller and lighter than the corresponding 8-cell Mk 41 module, in part because the silos themselves are a few centimeters smaller. For a full run-through of the differences, see this post by the UK Armed Forces Commentary-blog, where the differences are discussed with a keen eye to the pros and cons for the British Type 26 Frigate.

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An ESSM leaving a Mk 41 cell. Source: US Navy via Wikimedia Commons

Now, while some vessels, such as the current Finnish Hamina-class and the upcoming British Type 26, feature dedicated cells to their main air-defence assets, the VLS on the Pohjanmaa will likely be home to the ships main air defence weapons. This becomes evident as the ESSM offer is for the weapon quad-packed in Mk 25 modules, designed to fit the Mk 41-system. If the ESSM would be chosen, the Pohjanmaa-class would be by far the smallest vessel to feature the system. The decision to offer the Mk 41 is interesting, as there is a dedicated Mk 56 ESSM VLS-system if the sole use would be for the ESSM.

The ESSM is certainly a competent weapon, and shows what the Navy is aiming for. 8-16 cells with quad packs would provide for 32-64 medium-ranged missiles, a huge boost compared to the current 8 short-range Umkhontos found on the Hamina. While the Mk 41 is too big for the Hamina, the Mk 56 mean that half a dozen ESSM’s could potentially be fitted as part of the MLU if the Navy choose to go down that (unlikely) route. More interesting is that the ESSM could be fired from the Army’s NASAMS surface-to-air batteries, letting the Navy and Army use the same missile stock. The upcoming ESSM Block 2 will feature an active seeker based on that of the AMRAAM, and is potentially the version offered to the Pohjanmaa.

Interestingly, the AMRAAM-ER is a AMRAAM married to the engine of the ESSM, and no, I don’t know what exactly is the difference between an AMRAAM seeker married to an ESSM engine and an ESSM engine married to an AMRAAM seeker.

I am still inclined to believe that the Sylver might be the Navy’s preferred VLS due to the smaller footprint. However, as with the PTO 2020, we will just have to wait and see.

Review: EMB-312 Tucano – Brazil’s turboprop success story

One of my avgeeky soft spots is high-performance turboprops, so when Harpia announced that they were doing a book on the Tucano, it immediately caught my attention.

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Today the idea might be considered rather mainstream, but when the Tucano was born it still took quite a bit of outside the box-thinking to go for the idea of a near-jet experience in a prop plane. It is this combination of daring can-do attitude from the company and designers coupled with the engineering ingenuity it took to make it all work that lies at the heart of why I like this class of aircraft. However, truth be told I knew preciously little about the Tucano, and even less of the backstory of how Brazil suddenly appeared as a recognised exporter of high-performance training and COIN aircraft.

João Paulo Zeitoun Moralez starts at the beginning, detailing how the idea of a Brazilian aviation industry was born, and how a small team of engineers started producing basic indigenous designs in parallel to license production. Then when the opportunity presented itself, Embraer was ready to push a brave new design for a sudden Brazilian training requirement. Interestingly enough, the book details how the aircraft evolved through multiple concepts, and the political game behind it. After this the subsequent marketing push and Brazilian service is described, before attention briefly turns to the Short’s S.312 for RAF (as well as Kuwait and Kenya). After this comes a go-through of all 16 countries to which the aircraft was exported (one of the chapters being dedicated to US civilian operators), before discussing the roadmap and development work that led to the EMB-314 Super Tucano. The book is then rounded up with some impressive appendices, featuring technical specifications for both EMB-312 and S.312, colour profiles, ORBAT’s, and production lists listing individual fuselages. Note that the EMB-314 Super Tucano is not covered in the book, as it will receive its own volume in the (near?) future.

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The book sports plenty of photographs, both of the aircraft in action and close-ups of stores and other details. The photographs are almost exclusively in colour.

It is easy to be enthralled by the book. As a mechanical engineer turned project lead, I found the description of the work leading up to the operational debut highly fascinating. The topic is often glossed over in similar works in favour of more pages dedicated to operational use, but there certainly is an interesting story to be found here as well.

It is the completeness that really makes the book shine. Going through all stages from the birth of the Brazilian aviation industry up until and including the operational service for all operators to the very end of last year. One thing worth mentioning is that the export orders are given in alphabetical order and not chronologically, starting with Angola and ending with Venezuela. This means that it’s easy to look up a given country, but when reading through the first time it does at times feel like you are lacking parts of the puzzle. E.g. the Iraqi aircraft were mentioned in both the Egyptian and the Iranian chapters, before you eventually get around to getting their own story in the chapter on Iraq. I can see why they have done it this way, and it sure helps next time I pull the book out of the shelf to look up Peru, but for general readability I would perhaps have preferred them in chronological order.

The appendices are also of high quality, with the full-colour artworks including both early concepts (black and white), prototypes, and 60(!) operational aircraft representing all 16 operators. These are absolutely top-notch, both when it comes to the artistic work and the aircrafts picked, as they show an interesting mix of standard and special paint jobs.

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The book after a cover-to-cover read. The binding is still in near-mint condition.

The book feels big without being oversized when read. The size is just below A4, and with 256 semi-gloss pages it weighs in at just over a kilogram. When first opening the shrink wrap I felt slightly worried that the spine wouldn’t keep together, but I am happy to say that it held together without any problem despite my reading not being of the most gentle kind, including quite a bit of carrying around from place to place and leaving it flung open for prolonged times.

The single issue which stuck in the back of my mind is that while the facts, storytelling, and illustrations are all very good, the editorial work is unfortunately not quite at the same level. There are a few typos, and some sentences give a feeling that they are either translated or written by a non-native English speaker (big caveat that I myself is not a native English speaker, so this last one might be my mind playing tricks). These aren’t anything close to deal breakers and doesn’t detract from the interesting story, but I was somewhat surprised that, given the high quality of the other areas of the book, the editorial work felt more 95 than 100 %.

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Some of the more colorful Tucanos in RAF service.

Having said that, I am not going to lie: I absolutely love this one. Last time I reviewed a Harpia-book it was the Russia’s Warplanes-volumes, which I liked very much, but which were more of reference works than books to read cover to cover. This one is a comprehensive story of a single plane, and as such the reading value is significantly higher. The varied countries it has seen operation with is also adding to the interesting story, and a large number of those countries have used it operationally in combat. As mentioned earlier, the artworks are also absolutely fabulous, and certainly catches my imagination. Now, didn’t Hobby-Boss release a Tucano in 1/48 last year…?

The book was provided free of charge for review by Harpia Publishing.

 

Hamina does the Classics

The question of the upcoming deck-gun for the refurbished Hamina-class FAC was cleared up today, as BAE announced a deal for four Bofors 40 mm Mk. 4 to equip the vessels of the class. This is in line with the original reports, and means that the vessels will retain an amount of gun-fighting capability post-MLU, an especially important feature considering the small magazine sizes of both the heavy anti-ship missiles as well as the Umkhonto surface-to-air missiles.

I’ll admit that the headline above is slightly misleading, as while the words “40 mm” and “Bofors” certainly are a classic combo, the Mk. 4 share little except the calibre with the classic Bofors L/60 of WWII-fame. In between the two, the Rauma-class FAC and importantly the Kataanpää-class MCMV (poised to stay in service alongside the Hamina) are both equipped with the Bofors 40 mm Mk. 2. This is based on the L/70 long version which is more or less a completely new weapon using a longer round (40 x 364 mm vs 40 x 311 mm) when compared to the original L/60. The L/70 first entered service in 1948, but has proven to be a solid design which is found in a large number of single- and twin-mounts in navies throughout the world.

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The Bofors 40 mm Mk.4 turret. Source: Courtesy of BAE Systems

The new Mk. 4 turret still rely on the same L/70 weapon, but apart from looking like a ball (or rather something like a slightly distorted truncated hexagonal trapezohedron, but let’s stick to ball for now), the nice thing is that it is able to switch between different kinds of round on the fly (up to 100 rounds can be stored in a ready to fire mode). Further improving the flexibility its ability to use programmable 3P rounds, which allows e.g. for precise air burst or armour penetration capability from the same round, the exact mode being set the instant before the firing takes place. Finland is now the third country to acquire the Mk.4 after Sweden (a single patrol vessel that underwent MLU, since retired) and Brazil.

In the meantime, work on the first vessel to undergo MLU, FNS Tornio (’81’), started right away after the deal with Patria was announced, and already by the 16 January Finnish public broadcasting company YLE was able to show pictures from Western Shipyards in Teijo which showed that the earlier 57 mm gun and most sensors and antennas had been stripped from the vessel. Interestingly enough, the CEO of Western Shipyards states that they secured the contract in close competition with Uudenkaupungin Työvene and RMC, the shipyard which is set to build the new Pohjanmaa-class (Squadron 2020). While the work would without doubt have provided valuable experience to RMC, it might very well have been hard pressed to finnish all four vessels before the first Pohjanmaa start to require full focus.

Beyond NASAMS

In the shadow of the HX-fighter competition, the state of the ground based air defences in Finland has again appeared in the headlines. The short story is that in the mid-90’s Finland acquired the Russian Buk-M1 air defence system as part of Russia paying off the Soviet balance of the clearing accounts. However, while the system certainly is competent, questions soon arose if it was wise to operate a high-tech system which the main adversary had built? Especially as knowing the exact capabilities of the radar and missile is of crucial importance when it comes to defeating radar-guided missiles.

By the mid-00’s training new conscripts on the Buk stopped, and the system was phased out (never trust a Finn who says something is retired, the last conscripts who trained on the system most likely had another ten years in the reserve, during which they were assigned to a wartime unit operating the missiles, giving a ‘real’ retirement date around 2015) and replaced by the NASAMS II.

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The launcher of the NASAMS, sporting six canister mounted AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles. Source: Maavoimat FB

The NASAMS is a controversial system in Finnish service. Not because it is bad, it is very much amongst the most modern ones available, but because it is of significantly shorter range than the Buk it replaced. Most crucially it has a ceiling of around 10,000 meters, meaning that most modern fighter aircraft can simply operate above this. This isn’t necessarily as big a drawback as it is often portrayed to be. Operating above 10,000 meters place high demands on sensors and weapons if you are to hit anything, and it means that you are easily spotted by air surveillance radars, meaning that the advantage of surprise is long gone by the time the target is overflown.

Still, this has left Finland without a long-range surface-to-air missile for the first time since the late 70’s, and talk about the need for something heavier has been going since the decision to procure NASAMS instead of Aster. The big question is what?

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An Iskander TEL raising one of its missiles into firing position. Source: Vitaly Kuzmin/Wikimedia Commons

One issue which has been raised is the defence against ballistic missiles, i.e. missiles which are fired at a high angle, fly up to significant heights, and then ‘fall’ down at extreme speeds to hit a target. The Russian 9K270 Iskander-M is the embodiment of this threat, and comes equipped with either a conventional warhead (usually quoted at around 500 kg, but possibly with an option for a heavy penetrating warhead above 1,000 kg) or a nuclear one. The big improvement of the Iskander compared to the 9K79 Tochka U it replaced is the significant improvement of accuracy, which for the Iskander is quoted at a circular error probability of below 10 meters (i.e. half of the Iskanders will land within 10 meters of the intended target), meaning that it can reliably be assumed to hit individual buildings or bridges. As such, many has voiced the opinion that Finland need a system capable of shooting down ballistic missiles.

…and it is in the crossroad of these ideas that we find some of the most common misconceptions, which warrant a slight detour before looking at the latest developments.

To begin with, the ballistic missile threat is not new to Finland, nor is the associated A2/AD-problem, but these have been a part of the Soviet/Russian arsenal for decades. Even with the improved accuracy of the Iskander, it is not a war-winning weapon, as the limited number of missiles available and the rather limited damage caused by a single hit makes it impossible to take out dispersed targets. In other words, while it is possible to hit the command centre of a unit, it is not possible to wipe out the unit itself. The Iskander also needs target information before launch, meaning that it is best used against stationary targets.

Another issue often overlooked is how hard it is to shoot down a ballistic missile. Crucially, while a modern long-range air defence system can sport ranges of over 100 km against air targets (at high altitude, at lower altitude the earth’s curvature creates shadows), the corresponding ranges when trying to intercept a ballistic missile approaching at very high speed and steep angle are significantly shorter. While the exact performance is secret, some sources state that the maximum range is a few tens of kilometers, creating a significant problem with regards to how to base air defence batteries to be able to protect a certain target. The implications of this is that a single battery might have a hard time defending both the Upinniemi naval base and central Helsinki, depending on the parameters of the intercept.

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A Patriot battery from the US Army deployed in Sweden during exercise Aurora 17 last autumn. Source: Astrid Amtén Skage/Forsvarsmakten

As such, it is no surprise that Finnish officers are focusing on dispersion and hardening strategic targets instead of acquiring anti-ballistic missile capabilities. This is in marked contrast to Sweden’s decision to acquire the Patriot. Here, while the decision is not yet finalised, the ability to field the PAC-3 missile (or potentially the upcoming PAAC-4/Stunner/SkyCeptor) to take down ballistic missiles has played a key role. However, the capability doesn’t come cheap, as the total price tag of approximately 1 to 1.2 billion Euro will buy three to four batteries, each with a single radar and three to four launchers. However, the amount and types of missiles acquired will also play a huge role when it comes to cost, and the preliminary request, described as being “generous in size”, lists 200 PAC-3 (for anti-ballistic missile use) and 100 PAC-2 for use against aircraft, for an additional 1.5 billion Euro. The exact kind of combat management system involved will also play a role, as it seen in the case of the 8.6 billion Euro Polish deal for a comparable number of firing units (four batteries with four launchers each, with 208 PAC-3 missiles) as the Swedish order.

All things considered, any kind of anti-ballistic missile coverage is probably outside of the scope of the Finnish Army’s wishlist, with the focus being solely on the ability to shoot down aircraft at longer and higher ranges than what the current equipment is capable of. However, even within these bounds, there are still a significant number of different options available on the market. With this in mind the Logistics Command has now issued a Request for Information to “around ten” companies. Interestingly enough, the interview with brigadier general Renko, deputy chief of the Logistics Command, says that he would like the new missile to be part of the current NASAMS systems. At the same time, he notes that this is not purely about introducing a new missile to old launchers, but that there needs to be more batteries out in the field to improve coverage.

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This unremarkable looking little truck is the Fire Distribution Centre (FDC), the ‘brains’ of the NASAMS II. Source: MKFI/Wikimedia Commons

The obvious choice which has figured in reporting is the AMRAAM-ER. Where the basic NASAMS uses the same AMRAAM missile as found on e.g. the Finnish F/A-18 Hornets, the AMRAAM-ER marries the basic AMRAAM seeker (with improved steering code) to the engine of the ESSM (Evolved Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missile), giving a significant increase in both range and ceiling (50 and 70% respectively according to Raytheon). This means that both goals of the RFI could be met by buying more NASAMS batteries, and having both baseline and ER-versions of the AMRAAM in service. The big problem for the AIM-120 AMRAAM is that it is something of a victim of its own success. It is operated by a stunning 37 countries, meaning that no small amount of Russian research is likely going into how to defeat it. Especially if the AMRAAM will continue to be a key part of the Finnish airborne air defences as well, which is likely to be the case unless Rafale takes home the HX-competition, it might be good to ask whether all air defence eggs should be placed in the same basket?

At this point it should be remembered that one of the key points of the NASAMS is its modularity. It is unclear exactly which parts are integrated into the Finnish NASAMS systems, e.g if our ITO 05 (RBS 70 BOLIDE) are able to plug into the NASAMS’s Fire Distribution Center (FDC), something which Kongsberg claim is possible. However, if the Army really likes the current AN/MPQ-64F1 Improved Sentinel radar and associated systems, another missile could potentially be integrated into it. It is hard to see the reasoning behind this, and I am tempted to believe that the journalist misunderstood the general, who instead expressed a wish for the new system to be part of the current Finnish integrated air defences, i.e. sharing the same air picture as well as command and control structures.

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A French SAMP/T launcher being readied. Picture from Swedish exercise Aurora 17 last year. Source: Astrid Amtén Skage/Forsvarsmakten

If we assume this is what the Logistics Command means, it opens up a vast number of possibilities. One is the very same SAMP/T-system which competed (and lost) against the NASAMS ten years ago. The SAMP/T, also known as ASTER, is the closest competitor to the Patriot, and is also available both with “normal” and anti-ballistic missile missiles. As was the case last time around, both it and Patriot will probably be judged to be too expensive (although the Swedish deal is controversial at it turned out the SAMP/T offer was 150 million Euro cheaper than the Patriot one).

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The launcher of the Israeli SPYDER-MR system. Source: Pritishp333/Wikimedia Commons

However, below the high-end Patriot and SAMP/T there are still plenty to choose from. MBDA, the company behind SAMP/T, offers the CAMM-ER and ASPIDE 2000, and while information is somewhat scarce, both are likely superior when it comes to range and height compared to the baseline AMRAAM. Saab has the SRSAM BAMSE, which offer an altitude coverage of 15,000 meters, and the benefit of operating on a different wavelength, Ka-band as opposed to X-band, than the NASAMS, making it harder to jam both at the same time. Israeli company Rafael offer the SPYDER-MR featuring their Derby-missile with a range of 50 km and a ceiling of 16,000 meters. A more exotic (and highly unlikely) option is the Japanese Type 11 missile system built by Toshiba, of which very limited information is available. Still, it does look like it could potentially fit the bill, and during the last years Japan has opened up for potential arms exports. South African Denel Systems has a number of different versions of the Umkhonto, the basic IR-version of which is currently in service with the Finnish Navy. Some of the more advanced concepts might be able to compete with the baseline AMRAAM, though it is doubtful if they will have enough reach to satisfy the demands of the current RFI. Still, Denel does offer a ground-based launcher, and is probably included amongst the companies receiving the RFI.

The winner of the eventual RFQ which is to follow the current RFI is likely found amongst those mentioned above. The defence forces would like to sign a deal in 2020, and notes that this is tied to HX and Squadron 2020, as all three programs play significant roles in the overall air defence of Finland. If e.g. the CAMM in its sea-going version is adopted for SQ2020, it might increase the chances for CAMM-ER being adopted as the ground-based solution. In the meantime, it does feel like the AMRAAM-ER is the favourite, with the big question being whether relying too much on a single missile seeker for both air and ground-based is too high a risk compared to the synergies it would give?

And as it happens, Kongsberg and Patria a week ago announced that they will open a Missile Competence Centre in Tampere, specifically mentioning their work NASAMS in the press release. Funny how these things come together sometimes.