The Cavalry is Coming

Yesterday the Swedish Armed Forces officially stood up the first of their new units announced in the latest defence white paper, as the Norrland Dragoon Regiment was again retook its place as an independent unit. The unit, formerly known as the Army Ranger Battalion, has up until now operated as a semi-independent unit based in Arvidsjaur but sorting under the Norrbotten Regiment based in Boden. Of all the new and reinstated units found in the latest Swedish long-term plan, the Dragoons are without doubt the one most directly beneficial to Finland.

His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden declared the regiment reopened at a ceremony yesterday, 41 years after he did it the first time around when the unit moved to Arvidsjaur from Umeå. Source: Jimmy Croona/Försvarsmakten

But let us start from the beginning. The AJB, as the battalion has been known, should be no stranger readers of the blog. The doctrine of the unit has been described by a person with inside knowledge of its inner workings, and in case you haven’t read that or need to freshen up your memory of it I recommend going back and doing so, as the post isn’t overly long and will be referenced in this text in a number of places.

The reversion to regimental status is to facilitate the growth of the unit to include a second battalion, both of which will also return to their old designation of Norrland Ranger Battalions (Norrlandsjägarbataljoner), though without reverting back to the old doctrine (see the chapter “Special Forces” in this old post for a discussion on the naming conventions). At the risk of slightly oversimplifying the change: by the end of the decade Sweden should be able to put twice as many rangers in the field as they currently can.

It deserves to be reiterated what Jägarchefen wrote in the aforementioned post:

Today’s ranger battalion is in no way tied to a certain geographical area as [the Cold War ranger battalions] NjBat or Jbat Syd were, but is instead used where the capabilities of the unit provides the greatest benefit to the common fight.

However, you don’t have to be a genius to realise that the location of the regiment is influenced by the kind of terrain and climate the unit is to be able to handle. To quote the Swedish Supreme Commander, general Micael Bydén, from yesterday:

The region up here is strategically important from a military point of view. The Cap of the North, the Arctic, many want to be here, and then we need to be able to function and defend ourselves.

To a certain extent it is about the harshest conditions setting the bar. If you can survive and operate in the high north wilderness during winter conditions, you are likely able to do so in southern Sweden as well. However, notable is also how Jägarchefen described the Swedish rangers’ preferred area of operations:

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 front line. It is these targets, critical vulnerabilities deep behind enemy lines, that today’s Swedish Ranger Battalion is set to work against.

A quick look at the map says that any invader in the central-south of Sweden will have to have advanced quite significant distances until this kind of depth has been created. Certainly it is possible to find critical vulnerabilities close to the front line in case of amphibious or air landings, but these are often then better suited for long-range fires, air attacks, or even some of Sweden’s other special forces, such as the SOG or the combat swimmers.

Swedish rangers during an exercise in the subarctic conditions of the long winter typical of the high north. Source: AJB Facebook

Back to the high north. Sweden is situated at a notable distance from the Russian border, but also in a somewhat unhealthy location as northern Finland and Sweden is directly on the quickest route between the Norwegian port city of Narvik and the garrisons of Pechenga (sporting the combat proven troops of the 200th Motorized Infantry Brigade) and Alakurtti (home of the 80th Independent Motor Rifle Brigade). Sweden is also vary of the possibility of an attacker turning south and fighting their way down the coastline to reach the Swedish heartland – a longer route, but one offering safer lines of communications back to Russia compared to a landing directly in the south or central parts of Sweden (though as an interesting side-note, a Finnish Cold War-era map I recently caught sight of seemed to indicate that the FDF did not see the risk of a left-turn after Tornio as a likely scenario, but instead focused on the Schlieffenski plan in which the forces would advance over the River Tornio and sweep up in an arch to the northwest, reaching the coast on a wide front stretching from Tromsø to Bodø and encircling the Norwegian defenders of Finnmarken. No idea if this really was the dominant opinion within the FDF, and if so during which part/parts of the Cold War).

As such, northern Finland is of great interest to both Finland (obviously) and Sweden. However, for Finland the north will always be a secondary direction compared to the southeast, or even a third if the classic Raate-Oulu direction suddenly starts heating up. That’s not to say Finland wouldn’t defend its northern realms, both the Finnish Jaeger Brigade (note that in Finnish jaeger refers to any kind of infantry, in this case light infantry) and the Kainuu Brigade train units that feel right at home in a meter deep of snow. But there is no denying that the region is huge at over 450 km north to south and over 250 km east to west, and the number of troops available to defend the republic as a whole is limited.

In short, if there suddenly start to occur an influx of BTRs over the Finnish border, there would be gaps in the frontline and likely also in the number of eyes on the ground able to spot and create kinetic effects – either directly or through ordering in fires from other systems.

And this is were a bunch of Swedish dragoons could make a huge different.

A combined squad of rangers during an exercise late last year. The squad consisted of two forward observers, two snipers, a signals specialist, and a squad leader. During the exercise in question the unit managed to find an enemy artillery unit, which it then took out through a combination of sniper fire and by directing own counter-battery fire. Source: Mats Carlsson och David Kristiansen/Försvarsmakten

If Sweden sits on two battalions of rangers, trained in this very kind of terrain and climate – and often in exercises which see Finnish and Swedish units train together – the obvious development in the scenario above is to be proactive and send at least part of the force deep into Finland for both reconnaissance and direct action missions (“Thet är helsosammare binda sin häst wijdh sin Fiendes gärdzgårdh, än han binder wijd hans”, as Rudbeckius said). This is also a relatively low-key intervention compared to mobilising the Boden garrison and sending the armoured units east, but could still make a significant difference for both Sweden and Finland (as well as Norway, in case that is the eventual goal for the motorised columns). As such, this could present itself as both the politically easier and a militarily more flexible option. The obvious requirement is for Finnish and Swedish units to keep exercising together, and for the higher levels of command to hone their skills at fighting a common battle. Luckily, for the time being there seems to be both the political will as well as the investment in time and resources from the armed forces to do just that.

All in all, the most important improvement in the Finnish ability to defend Lappi that has happened during 2021 might have taken place three and a half hours of driving from the Finnish border. Because the odds of the cavalry coming just went up.

12 thoughts on “The Cavalry is Coming

    1. In this case I used the Finnish term to differentiate it from Swedish Lapland, to I agree the terminology for the European high north in English is somewhat confusing and far from clear.

  1. Esko Oksanen

    This is an interesting point of view. Currently the ability to provide targeting for long range fires is of limited use to the Swedish ranger units as Sweden has a very limited access to fires of any sort. Operating together with Finland (or NATO for that matter) would almost become a requirement to make optimal use of these units. The lack of fires though becomes even more problematic in central and southern Sweden, not least because the only artillery is in Boden. And even when some day there will be artillery in Kristinehamn/Villingsberg it is not exactly south either and the ability of the Air Force to provide ground support is likely to be limited. The question is whether Sweden can afford to send even the ranger battalion(s) to the east if the south (including Gotland of course) is threathened…

    1. Tom

      I think you misunderstand how the Swedish defence works. Boden and Kristeinehamn are places where we train soldiers. Where the army units are located in war time is a different thing. Today Sweden has ordered 72 Archers with a range of 40-50 kilometers depending of ammunition. Sweden will also most likely aquire the French-Swedish MMP missile as Sweden participates in its development – that missile has a range of about 5 kilometers. Sweden also has a stated objective to aquire rocket artillery with long range precision ammunition, and in that context, Sweden and the US develops the Small Diameter Bomb that has a range of 150 km.

      1. Esko Oksanen

        Yes, of course the fires units can be redeployed whereever, but this a) takes time and b) is vulnerable to enemy action, so using any artillery fires south of Mälardalen relies on a timely executed mibilisation… While new Archer pieces are obviously good, it’s a bit sad that even the existing ones cannot all be deployed due to lack of personnel… So the timelines of getting any rocket artillery operational are likely to be long. That said any fires unit is obviously useless in the absence of targetting information, so having enough ranger units is also a prerequisite for effective use of the however limited long range fires.

      2. JoJo

        What was Sweden’s contribution to Missile Moyenne Portée besides a place to test the performance of the MMP in cold conditions?

    2. Tom

      I don´t think Finland has artillery in every bushes? So you redeploy. Everyone redeploys.The access of artillery will increase over hte next coming years, so by 2030, Sweden will have 72 Archers and 40 CV90 Mjölner mortars. I think Sweden will order more artillery and at least 40 Mjölner more, but then they will not be operational by 2030. Your knowledge of the Swedish army is not good – we have 5 batallions that we today can use as rangers. We will increase that in the coming years to 7. And for the rocket artillery, it took Sweden 3 years to get the Patriot anti air systems operational, so the time for rocket artillery will not take that long. It is the aquisition that is a question mark, when will we buy it.

  2. Tom

    Brace yourself for that the two battalions soon will be three. As the Swedish defence minister has asked the Swedish defence to investigate setting up a third battalion in Kiruna, former I22 – Lapplandsjägarna, it is likely that Sweden will decide to set up a third batallion in Kiruna after 2026, that as a detachement to K4, Norrlands Dragonregemente. That would also be in line with Sweden also being able to providing support to Norway in Finnmark. Take into account that Sweden will be able to support wih tho more ranger batallions from K3 in Karlsborg, one jaeger batallion and one paratrooper batallion.

  3. IED

    This reestablishment makes a lot of sense and seems to be money well spent from the Swedish government. Tom: where have you read about the third batallion? I haven’t seen anything about it.

    Regarding the state of Swedish artillery, it must be remembered that Sweden is recovering from the idea that war is something that happens on other continents. While the Swedish army was focussing on tropical UN missions, artillery was not a necessity and the resources were all but disbanded. Sweden is now struggling to recouperate its artillery function but the capacity is steadily inceasing. Finland on the other hand has always kept a watchful eye to the east and has – by doctrine and by necessity – maintained a higher level of artillery.

    1. Tom

      That idea was something a few stupid politicians had, never the Swedish army.

      Regarding the idea of three batallions, that is mentioned

      In the government proposition Regeringens proposition 2020/21:30 Totalförsvaret 2021–2025, you find this on page 117.

      Regeringen anser att det på sikt finns behov av ytterligare militär förmåga i övre Norrland i form av t.ex. särskilda gränsjägarförband.

      1. IED


        BTW, I didn’t mean to imply that the idea originated in the army. But they were ordered to comply to and (un-)funded towards that rather strange new direction. And now Sweden has to pay the price.

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