The Finnish Navy celebrated its yearly Navy Day (fi. Merivoimien vuosipäivä) last week on the 9th of July, the date being that of the (Second) Battle of Svensksund, outside of modern-day Kotka, where a Swedish (Finland being part of Sweden back then) fleet in 1790 defeated and routed a stronger Russian fleet to turn the tide of the otherwise rather unsuccessful Russo-Swedish War of 1788–90. As part of these celebrations, Counter admiral Takanen, the CO of the Navy, gave a few further details on the status of the MTA 2020 project for new surface vessels.
Let’s begin with a short recap: a few years ago the Finnish flagship FNS Pohjanmaa was retired, the ship having functioned as a dual-purpose minelayer/training vessel. The two similarly sized minelayers of the Hämeenmaa-class (displacing 1,000 t), FNS Hämeenmaa and FNS Uusimaa, as well as the four fast-attack craft of the Rauma-class are all set to follow suit sometime around 2025. The minelayers can, aside from laying mines, act as command vessels for flotillas and have a limited anti-air and anti-submarine tasking, something which was demonstrated when FNS Uusimaa drove away an underwater intruder outside of Helsinki earlier this year.
The Rauma-class are traditional FAC’s, dating from the early 90’s. The small 215 ton vessels feature up to six Saab MTO-85M (RBS15 Mk3) anti-ship missiles, a small number of mines, or a towed array to search for submarines with. They are also armed with anti-submarine rockets, as is the Hämeenmaa-class. The aluminium-hulled vessels are starting to show their age, and they were temporarily removed from service earlier this year due to hull cracks. FNS Naantali has now been modified to cure these, and is back in service. If the modification is a success, the other three vessels will also be modified.
The retirement of these seven vessels would leave the Finnish Navy with four FAC of the slightly larger (235 t) and vastly more modern Hamina-class. These vessels are equipped with four MTO-85M anti-ship missiles, and eight ITO 04 (Denel Umkhonto) surface-to-air missiles, and have a limited mining ability. In other words, a replacement for the outgoing vessels is sorely needed.
The MTA 2020 has been in the plans for quite some time, but very limited information has surfaced so far. The interview with Takanen published in Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat is the most detailed look into the project we have had so far.
The vessels, of which there will be four, will be corvettes of around 90 meters in length. The former Soviet-built Riga-class frigates (1,260 t, called ‘Uusimaa’-class in Finnish service) was mentioned by the Admiral for size-comparison. As such, they will be amongst the longest combat ships ever to have served in the Finnish Navy, and provide a quantum leap in capability and endurance compared to current vessels.
The armament will consist of “modern anti-ship missiles”, as well as lightweight anti-submarine torpedoes.
This will be the first time the Finnish Navy operates torpedoes after they were banned during negotiations post-World War II. Edit: The Riga-class was equipped with a tripple-torpedo tube for 533 mm torpedoes during the beginning of their career. Thanks to Mikko Laaksonen for pointing out! As the vessel will be designed to counter surface, sub-surface, as well as airborne threats, it is safe to assume it will be equipped with modern surface-to-air missiles, despite this not being explicitly mentioned in the article. The choice of anti-ship missile is currently being studied.
The vessel will feature the ability to lay mines, and will be built from steel. They will be designed to be able to operate around the year in Finnish conditions, i.e. including in ice, as well as in the warmer climate of international operations.
Currently, the closest vessels in operation with regards to size and capability are the German K130 Braunschweig-class of corvettes, based on the MEKO A100-concept. These corvettes, displacing 1,840 t and measuring 88.75 m in length, feature four RBS15 Mk3 for anti-shipping work and two 21-round SAM-launchers for the RIM-116 surface-to-air missile. Aft they are equipped with flight decks capable of handling helicopters up to the size of the NH90 (currently in use by the Finnish Army), but no hangar for storing these during operations. Two notable differences from the Finnish specification is the lack of anti-submarine capability and ice-going capability. The price for five vessels is given as 1.2 billion Euros (~240 million per vessel). An interesting comparison is the four vessels of the class that Israel has bought, which will be locally known as the Sa’ar 6-class. These will be bought from Germany but have their final outfitting, including installation of armaments, done in Israel, their price tag as delivered from Germany will be around 430 million Euros for four vessels (~107 million per vessel). This goes to show that on a modern warship, the better part of the cost is not the vessel itself, but the combat systems.
What then to make of this new information? The number of vessels, a reduction in hulls almost by half, is a disappointment. Still, considering the cost of the program, it could have been far worse. The striking capability of the navy as whole will get a marked increase both in absolute and relative terms, but that doesn’t mean that the four vessels can be everywhere at once. On the plus side, the Finnish south coast is short, measuring roughly 450 km from the eastern border to the western (maritime) border with Sweden, so with the range of modern sensors and weapons a single squadron can control (or at least contest) a rather large portion of that sea and air space. Sub-surface threats on the other hand still require the vessel to be in close contact to locate and attack them, especially in the demanding conditions of the Baltic Sea, so the number of vessels will have a larger impact on the capability to conduct simultaneous ASW-operations, although the introduction of torpedoes is a marked improvement in this field.
With regards to the anti-shipping missiles, a connection can be drawn to the HX-contenders, many of which feature different anti-shipping missiles. It would seem logical that the same missile that the eventual HX-plane might be equipped with would also be the choice for the navy, in the same way that the Navy currently operates the same missile from ships and trucks (MTO-85M), as well as having the same short-range missile as the Army (RO2006/PstOhj 2000, Eurospike-ER and -MR respecitvely). The time schedule for the MTA 2020 might however be too tight for these considerations.