James Mashiri has (again) written an excellent piece on his blog (so far only in Finnish), this time about the need to see NATO as a part of the larger question of Finnish foreign and security policy, and not as a single choice issue that would have a rather minor effect on how the Finnish Defence Forces should be structured. This he does in the light of the need to modernize the material of the Defence Forces, an issue that is intimately coupled with the reluctance of the current government to grant the funds needed. A Finnish NATO-membership, Mashiri argues, could bring needed savings, by allowing Finland to scale down certain areas. As an unlicensed spin-off, I will look into a few of these areas.
The simple truth is that Finland’s wars are won or lost by the ground forces. The air force and navy are important supporting arms, but neither can defend Finnish territory alone. Finland has also maintained a rather traditional force structure, with a large reserve consisting largely of (light) infantry. The artillery park is large, and built around a core of towed pieces and mortars, coupled with self-propelled guns in the form of 2S1 Gvozdika/122 PSH 74 and 2S5 Giatsint-S/152 TELAK 91 and multiple rocket launchers. The armoured component is relatively weak, but is strengthened through the recent purchase of modern (used) Dutch Leopard 2A6 main battle tanks. However, a large number of older vehicles, such as the BMP-2 is still found in the organization. These will either have to be modified or replaced in the near future.
One of the big issues for the army has been the lack of training, especially when it comes to the reserves. Another major headache has been the replacement of anti-personnel mines, as Finland signed the Ottawa Treaty (Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention) in 2011. A number of solutions to this has been presented, including the use of attack helicopters, cluster munition, MLRS (22 ex-Dutch M270 MLRS/298 RSRAKH 06 were purchased in 2007), but all are either expensive, vulnerable, under criticism from human rights groups, or a combination of the above. In addition to these high profile issues, a number of older systems are on the verge of obsolescence, and will need to be replaced during the coming decades.
The Army is perhaps the branch that would see the least amount of change in case of a NATO-membership. Still, the possibility to coordinate the defences of the northern flank in particular with Norway, Sweden (in case of a Swedish membership) and possibly other countries would be a huge boost. Also, the addition of even a small number of e.g. foreign armoured or special forces units could potentially be a game changer.
The Finnish Navy will need to discharge a number of its older ship classes during the coming years, including such important assets as the Rauma-class FAC’s and the heavy mineships. The coming procurement of the new support ship, MTA 2020, to replace these two classes has already been discussed on this blog to some length. Questions have been raised whether too many functions are being crammed into a single platform, but so far it is too early to tell.
It is also noteworthy that a large number of coastal units are included in the navy, with e.g. the truck based RBS15 Mk3/MTO-85M anti-ship missiles being a system that will not be cheap to replace. Also, the question of over the horizon targeting (OTOH) for long-range anti-ship missiles is not solved. UAV’s might provide the answer to this, but so far no funding has been allocated.
What then could the changes be for the Finnish Navy, if we opted (and were accepted) to join NATO?
Truth be told, a look at the geography of the Baltic Sea, coupled with the number of combat vessels in the navy gives away the fact that we already are counting on the support of a number of states around the Baltic Sea (Sweden in particular) in the case of a conflict. The relatively small number of combat vessels (8 fast attack craft, 2 mine ships) means that it is only possible to maintain local naval supremacy in the Baltic Sea, and the range and endurance of the FAC’s (500 NM and 5 days respectively of the Hamina) dictates that this place would be rather close to home. In other words: the Finnish Navy should be able to make certain that the NW corner of the Baltic Sea is safe for friendly merchant shipping, but from there on out to the North Sea, we would have to rely on friendly states (including at least Sweden, Denmark and Norway, and to a lesser extent, Germany and Poland).
The Finnish navy is also currently lacking submarines, as well as having only a limited ASW-capability, both of which could be provided by the abovementioned countries in the case of a NATO-membership. The same can be said to a lesser extent about e.g. the lack of OTOH-capability, as well as general operational reconnaissance assets.
It would not be unfair to say that the Navy is already trimmed to deliver what NATO would expect from us in the case of an armed conflict. The one interesting option where I believe savings might be found is the expeditionary ship(s) of the Navy. Finland is expected to participate in international missions, meaning we need to have at least a single ship that is equipped for sustained operations on the high seas in warm (tropical) climates. This could potentially be a pooled OPV vessel, e.g. in cooperation with Sweden and/or other NATO-members. However, as the Finnish Navy also regularly sails on goodwill visits and training cruises, we would in any case have the need for a training ship equipped to handle warmer climates and prolonged journeys, meaning that the potential saving are probably not as large as they initially seem. For my readers who understand Swedish, I can recommend the blogger Krigsmakten who has a post about the potential benefits of a dedicated OPV as opposed to giving it as a secondary mission to a “regular” vessel.
The Air Force
After Finland finally (also officially) started to have an air force with both air to air and air to ground capability, the biggest problem in case of an air war would probably be the lack of strategic depth. Russian long-range surface-to-air missiles covers more or less the whole country, making all air operations staged from bases in Finland extremely dangerous.
Correspondingly, the offensive weapons carried by modern tactical aircraft, such as the F-18C Hornet of the Finnish Air Force, makes it possible to support own forces from far greater range than what has been the case (so called “stand-off weapons”), but to get maximum range out of these, a certain altitude is usually required. Being able to group Finnish Air Force units in the northern half of Sweden during wartime would significantly increase both the effectiveness and survivability of our own planes, while also simplifying the integration of both Finnish and Swedish fighters into a single multinational force during wartime. This possible synergy would obviously be even greater if both air forces were equipped with the same aircraft, the JAS 39E/F Gripen being the obvious candidate.
A large saving would also come from the use of NATO’s (and especially the USAF/USN’s) considerable number of force multipliers, such as AWACS/AEW, tanker support, EW and strategic reconnaissance assets.
An even more radical step would be to not replace the Hornet, and instead rely on other countries for fast jet support. This move would probably be hugely unpopular with a number of NATO-countries, but the lack of strategic depth and relatively large ground component of the Finnish Defence Forces could be brought up to defend this move.