During the recent Rikskonferens held by Folk och Försvar (national conference hosted by the Swedish association for people and defence, #fofrk) a number of people have commented on the sorry state of the Swedish defence forces compared to those of Finland. I’ve also earlier witnessed this tendency by Swedes to see Finland as a role model in this field.
We certainly are in a better state when it comes to defending our country against an armed attack, but the truth is unfortunately that we are in a downward spiral, and this seems to be accelerating. This is despite the fact that the current centre-right government at first glance seemed to be further invested in the well-being of our national defence than the broad coalition it replaced. The whole process bears an uncanny resemblance to the one which wrecked the defence forces in our neighbouring country, but is somehow forgotten amidst a few large flagship projects, such as the HX-fighter program. There is a risk that already in the medium term the Finnish defence forces will feature a number of cutting edge systems, but will find that it is severely lacking in materiel and training when it comes to the baseline capabilities (to borrow an expression from the Swedish discussion). This post will shine the light on a number of issues which needs to be addressed at some point in the near future, if Finland is to maintain a credible defence in the form we are used to.
A number of different materiel systems needs to be replaced in the near future/medium term, many of which have so far received little attention (in open media), such as:
- The acquisition of new personal rifles/carbines have been put on hold, instead the older Rk 62 (Sako/Valmet-built AKM-clones) are to be refurbished. This also overlooks the fact that a large number of second-line units will have to do with a host of different AKM-clones bought in en masse from formerly East German and Chinese stocks, which lacks the ergonomics, sights, and accuracy that is needed for a personal weapon on the modern battlefield
- The fact that the number of naval warships will be reduced by 27% with the introduction of the MTA2020 corvettes has been discussed at length. However, the drastic reductions in auxiliary vessels have passed largely unnoticed. The formerly ubiquitous ferry-like vessels of the Kala- and Kampela-classes have been reduced from 6+3 vessels to 0+1 vessels, and no replacement seems planned. The majority of the Linnakevene-class have been either stricken or relegated to the reserve. Three out of five of the larger Valas-class have also been withdrawn, while the number of landing crafts has been reduced with 12 Jehu ordered to accompany 36 Jurmo and replace around 30 Uisko-class landing crafts. The number of command launches (with secondary capability as light transports) has also been reduced from nine to six. While this is somewhat compensated for by the closure of manned fortifications in the archipelago, there would still be a major need of transporting people and equipment to the myriad of islands in the Gulf of Finland and Åland Sea (as a matter of fact, one could argue that the lack of permanent basing actually increases the need for transportation)
- The Kuha- and Kiiski-class minesweepers (originally 6+7 vessels) are also getting long in tooth, with no replacement in sight except the three minehunters of the Katanpää-class
- A number of weapons will need replacing, including
light anti-tank weapons(currently the mission is handled by the M72A5 LAW) Edit: This issue has been solved by introducing the M72 EC LAW Mk.I as the 66 KES 12, 7.62 TKIV 85 and 7.62 TKIV Dragunov sharpshooter rifles (bolt-action rifles built on Mosin-Nagant receivers and SVD’s respectively), as well as the (in)famous 7.62 KvKK 62 light machine-gun
- The Finnish artillery park, one of Europe’s largest (and oldest) features a number of different heavy guns and howitzers, a large number of which are towed. The plan is to replace all of these with a single self-propelled gun/howitzer, the RFI for which have been sent out. Most likely this will lead to a drastic reduction in the number of barrels (though some of the loss will be offset by the faster and simpler handling compared to towed pieces)
- The need for fast and secure communications is constantly increasing, and especially for higher tactical networks the importance of modern equipment is ever growing, while at the same time the life span for how long equipment can be considered secure is shrinking
Apart from the issues of ageing material, a number of political decisions have also directly affected the current situation (ie. there is too little money to go around):
- The level of refresher exercises is slowly starting to get back to the target level, but it is hard to renew the know-how lost during 2012 to 2014 when they were more or less non-existent
- While the defence forces is receiving more money for renewing a number of materiel systems, tens of millions of Euros are at the same time cut from other parts of the defence budget
- There were plans to cut the money allocated to the volunteer defence organizations with 400,000 Euros, or around 20% of the total sum, at the same time when the volunteer aspects of the reserve is being championed as a way of covering up the shortfall in refresher exercises. The cuts were only averted after heavy lobbying by the affected organizations
- Due to the economic situation, the defence forces have been forced to use wartime stocks, meaning that these have been steadily shrinking during the last 4-5 years
In addition, there have been a number of personal quarrels between higher officials at the ministry of defence and high-ranking officers, as well as with other ministers. While open debate (to some extent) is certainly welcome and even necessary, for the outsider there seems to be quite some underlying tensions, and whether everyone actually is pulling in the same direction remains unclear.
All in all, while the situation is far from disastrous, there are certainly challenges ahead. Challenges which can only be solved if we first admit that they’re there.