‘The Best Artillery in Europe’

There are several new developments when it comes to heavy indirect fire in the Finnish Army since I last visited the topic, so here’s a brief overview, including some BONUS-content:

K9 Thunder

The planned procurement of the Korean K9 Thunder self-propelled gun is moving forward. Perhaps the greatest talking point so far has been the discrepancies between reports in KoreanKorean and Finnish media. While Finnish media talks about ‘tens of guns’ for a price tag of ‘100 million Euros or slightly above’, the Korean media is more specific, and mentions 48 guns valued at 400 million US Dollars (375 million Euros), including technology transfer. While the number of guns certainly could be correct, the difference in price is rather staggering…

Contrary to my speculating last time around, the K10 resupply vehicle is not set to be included in the deal. However, Estonia has been invited to join in the procurement. The country has declared their intent to equip their mechanised brigade, the 1. Jalaväebrigaad, with self-propelled artillery. Estonia and Finland has bought defence equipment together before, and a joint buy might be a good way to put some additional pressure on the price.

The first K9 Thunder on Finnish soil attended trials at Rovajärvi firing range last year, as part of the Join Fires Exercise (MVH 2016). The preliminary contract is expected to be signed this spring.

Lost & Found

That the Finnish artillery park has been large is no secret. Exactly how large is.

In an interesting turn of events, the latest reform of the Defence Forces suddenly increased the number of Finnish artillery pieces, 120 mm mortars and up, with about 900 pieces.

This statement, widely presented by the press as Finland hiding information from OSCE, deserves some further comments. Yes, it is certainly not in the spirit of the Vienna Agreement, though part of the explanation lies in the known omissions of the document. The document only covers systems in units down to brigade/regiment level, meaning that those artillery systems deployed in independent battalions and companies, such as the Finnish local defence units, aren’t included. The same goes for the Navy/Marines, which also is outside of the agreement. A third potential issue is stored guns which are again assigned a wartime task, and as such are re-entering the document.

The more interesting part than speculating how it was done is why, and especially why the guns were brought back into the document. There are clearly some high-level signalling taking place.

For those keeping count, the current artillery park is shown as 698 heavy mortars, 18 AMOS self-propelled mortars, 34 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled howitzers, 471 light howitzers, 76 130 mm field guns, 156 152/155 mm heavy howitzers/field guns, and 113 MLRS.

The best artillery in Europe

The planned purchase of K9 does not take place in a vacuum, but is one part of the larger plan for upgrading the artillery. The aim, as explained by Inspector of Artillery colonel Pasivirta, is to get the best artillery found in Europe, and with some margin.

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First firing of the 155 mm BONUS Mk II ‘smart’ anti-tank round at MVH 2016. Source: Maavoimat.fi

This includes already made steps, such as the introduction of the BONUS anti-tank round. The round has a range of up to 35 km, and once over the target area two sub-munitions are ejected. These are equipped with sensors, and search for armoured targets. If a suitable target is found, it is destroyed by a shaped-charge punching through the roof of the vehicle, normally the most lightly armoured part. The first firing in Finnish service of this highly potent artillery round took place at the above-mentioned MVH 2016 exercise.

The bigger headline was the announcement that the service is looking into counter-battery radars. These makes it possible to locate the position of firing units, and in some cases even to alert own troops in the enemy’s target area that enemy artillery is heading their way. The acquisition of such as system, Saab’s ARTHUR and ELTA’s ELM-2084 comes to mind, would certainly raise the deadliness of the Finnish artillery, and makes perfect sense.

More puzzling was the tweet issued by the official Finnish MoD Twitter-account. Where the colonel talks about a swift (though not rushed) procurement program with an RFQ coming out this spring, and the system being operational by 2020, the author of the tweet (grumpily?) claims that the ‘Defence Forces have wanted the radars for 30 years, but the acquisition hasn’t even been cleared for an RFI’.

I have now idea what that was about.

15 thoughts on “‘The Best Artillery in Europe’

      1. gbd_crvx

        So if Finland wanted to upgrade their rocket artillery it would be possible, without having to buy new equipment then?

  1. Kristian

    As someone who did his military service in a forward observer team I am very jealous of the Finnish artillery. Even if a lot of the systems are old quantity has a quality all of it’s own, and that goes double for artillery.

  2. John Doe

    Could it be that the ~100 million figure includes just the SP guns and the ~400 million figure also includes the maintenance and logistics infrastructure investment?
    It is unsure whether Estonia will join in on the procurement. The official answer to the speculations was a rather icy “yes, we are perfectly aware of the Finns”. It will surely depend on the timeframe, especially since our CV90 procurement isn’t finished, and logistical details. The Lithuanians have already bought the PzH 2000 and the Latvians might be considering M109 based guns. This might mean that all three Baltic countries will end up with three different systems. Sadly, that is the normal state of procurement co-operation between the Baltic countries.

  3. J.J.

    Based on my grandpa’s experience as officer of the highly effective Winter War KTR7 on the Karelian Isthmus, range and accuracy were and still are key requirements for success. Hence the Finnish MLRS procurement should look at Saab’s new Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB) program achieving 150km/1m with GBU-39B small diameter smart bomb attached to M26 rocket. This combo could extend the range of the Finnish coastal artillery even over the Åland islands.

    1. Kristian

      While effective and accurate thanks to the sensors in the SDB the GLSDB is only useful against point targets. So unless you have exact target information (e.g. an individual vehicle or bunker) you can’t use GLSDB. Even in the era of smart, and very expensive, weapons artillery is still primarily an area weapon used for suppression.

      I’m not saying that weapons like GLSDB or the 155mm Excalibur doesn’t have a role or that they are useless. But they are not silver bullets that can solve every problem. Sometimes you have the need to pound the stuffing out of a map grid and GLSDB can’t help you with that.

      1. J.J.

        The learning from KTR7 was that while the firepower was vastly superior on the other side, why KTR7 could still be effective and the front did not retreat during the entire war was accuracy and precise targeting where KTR7 had some key tools to achieve this. Due to bad ammo situation and enemy owning the air space with scout planes, several categories of fire were not allowed unlike for the Soviets and only accurate operations usually were executed. And the long-range coastal artillery participation in supporting the land battle was essential. That’s why GLSDB-like weapon should be in the mix today.

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