6. Division to the defence of the common North

I recently wrote an article over at Swedish defence website “Militär Debatt” discussing which Swedish capabilities would be of greatest interest to Finland. To the surprise of some, instead of fancy systems such as submarines and AEW&C aircraft, the capability I picked above the rest was the possibility of getting the Swedish mechanized brigade built around the units trained by the peacetime I 19 Norrbottens regemente (the Norrbotten regiment) in Boden, which would be a significant addition to the defence of the vast and sparsely populated northern Finland. While how many Finnish units would mobilised in the region during wartime as well as how many units would be deployed there during different scenarios is obviously a secret, it is safe to assume that in most cases the number of units would be rather limited as the larger part of the Finnish Army would be used to defend the Finnish population and industrial centras in the south and central parts of the country.

In the Finnish north there are two army units spread over three garrisons: Kainuun prikaati (KAIPR, the Kajani brigade) in Kajani, and Jääkäriprikaati (JPR, the Jaeger brigade) in Sodankylä and Rovaniemi. Of these, KAIPR sits just south of the classic Raate – Suomussalmi – Oulu line of advance, while JPR is further north. As geography changes slowly, the strategic value of the east-west axis of advance aimed at Oulu and cutting through Finland at its narrowest point remains, meaning that a significant proportion of the Finnish forces trained in the subarctic wilderness likely will be concentrated on the Kuusamo-Suomussalmi-Kuhmo line, leaving fewer troops to cover the roughly 250 km from Salla to Vätsäri. As such, it is easy to imagine that a Swedish mechanised brigade would at least double the amount of troops capable of conducting high-end offensive operations in the area north of Kuusamo.

Finnish Leopard 2A4 from the tank company attached to Jääkäriprikaati taking part in exercise Cold Response 22 in Norway earlier this year. Norway is also using the 2A4, though they are in the process of picking a replacement, while the Swedes are employing a localised version of the somewhat newer 2A5. Source: Jääkäriprikaati Twitter

However, as we all know, Finland and Sweden won’t be the only countries in Sápmi that are NATO-members (as soon as the Turkey-situation is dealt with), and any defence planning will be conducted jointly with Norway. Any defence planning will also be conducted within the broader scope of NATO, and as is well-known while NATO obviously doesn’t dictate how the individual countries handle their defence, the alliance isn’t shy of asking and in general has stated that it “needs, now more than ever, modern, robust, and capable forces at high readiness […] in order to meet current and future challenges”, as the 64. paragraph of the Wales Summit Declaration expressed it. That doesn’t mean that all forces need to be fully mobilised here and now, but it will provide some food for thought for the Finnish strategic culture.

…which leads us to an interesting idea: what NATO really needs is a tri-national standing division in the high north.

I will admit that whenever I see the words ‘standing unit’ and ‘Finnish Army’ in the same sentence, the first reaction is to try and explain how the Finnish conscript-reservist system works. However, new times calls for new measures, and as we will have units from three nations fighting side-by-side in the area – which is a single geographical theatre of operations as I have earlier noted – this calls for close cooperation and joint training already in peacetime. Few things would raise the combat capability as much as having at least a number of the units in place already during peacetime. As such, I present to you my very rough concept for the 6. Division, a tri-national mechanised unit for the defence of the high North.

I picked the name 6. Division, as it has a historical connection to some of the region’s most notable military formations in the case of all three armies.

While the German attack on Norway in 1940 for the most part was a huge success for the attackers, the one major allied victory was the liberation of Narvik. The city had been captured in the initial assault, but was retaken by a joint French – UK – Norwegian – Polish attack in May. The key Norwegian unit of the battle was the 6. divisjon. The unit was disbanded following the Allied retreat, but was reformed post-war and stationed in northern Norway from 1954 until it was disbanded again this side of the millenium.

The Swedish VI. armé-fördelningen was first created in Östersund in 1893, were it spent the next 34 years until the northern Swedish division was renamed as the Norra arméfördelningen, only to change to II. armé-fördelningen in 1937. At the same time, the Boden garrison had set up their own division as XV. arméfördelningen, which remained as such until the two units where merged in 1994 with Boden taking lead and renumbering as the 6. armé-fördelning, keeping this until disbandment in 2000.

The Finnish 6. divisioona was set up in 1941 with soldiers from the northern districts. The unit enjoyed a somewhat spotty history, including taking part in the failed Unternehmen Polarfuchs with the Nazi-German forces and having soldiers robbing the Kajaani liqueur store under riot-like forms in 1942, until it turned up at Ihantala in 1944 and formed a key part in what was one of the crucial battles of the summer of 1944. After this, the unit went north to fight their former German allies, a campaign which saw them liberate Rovaniemi.

The key Norwegian unit is the Brigade Nord (Brigade North), which is a fully mechanised unit made up of three mechanised battalions, the Telemark Bataljon, the 2. Bataljon, and the Panserbataljon, as well as supporting units. Of these, the Telemark battalion is stationed further south as the name implies, and is the only fully contracted battalion, the rest including conscripts in their manning. The Telemark and Panser (armoured) battalion include both tanks and CV 9030 infantry fighting vehicles among their numbers, while the 2. battalion lack tanks and only has CV 9030-vehicles (and in fact is only now undergoing transition from light infantry to mechanised, a process which will be ready by 2023). Among the supporting units there are e.g. artillery (K9 Thunder) and engineering battalions, meaning that the brigade has all the organic capabilities needed.

I 19 in Sweden has up until now been responsible for the creation of a number of units which can be pieced together according to need under the command of the Tredje brigadstaben, an independent brigade HQ set up by the regiment. However, the wartime forces set up by the unit is now undergoing transformation into a fixed brigade structure, under which the 19. Mekaniserade norrlandsbrigaden (NMekB 19, also known as Norrbottensbrigaden) will see some important changes. This new wartime unit will reach full operational capability in 2026. Like their Norwegian brethren, the two main combat systems are the Leopard 2 and the CV 90 – though Sweden has a newer Leopard (Strv 122/Leo 2A5 compared to Leo 2A4) and an older CV 90 (Strf 9040 compared to CV 9030 Mk I and III). The current two wartime combat battlions are the 191:a and 192:a mekaniserade bataljonen, och which the former sport both full-time and part-time serving soldiers while the latter is made up of soldiers serving part-time. Note that the Swedish mechanised battalions are tank heavy, sporting two tank and two mechanised companies each, actually making them armoured rather than mechanised battalions, something which also is evident in at least one of the plans on the table which would see a wartime NMekB 19 made up of 191. pansarbataljonen as a standing unit and 192. pansarbataljonen and 193. mekaniserade bataljonen as part-time units (also note the inability of the Swedish Armed Forces to decide upon a single way of writing numbers before units, causing headaches to innocent bloggers).

The key Finnish unit as mentioned is the Jääkäriprikaati which is specialised in (sub)arctic conditions and air defence. While air defence units are nice, the interesting part here is the Sodankylä garrison and the Lapin jääkäripataljoona which with a focus on light infantry is responsible for an unknown number of units to be mobilised in wartime. However, for our standing 6. division there is the post-Crimean detail of the Finnish Army’s new standing units created under the designation Valmiusyksikkö or readiness unit – manned by a combination of longer-serving conscripts and contracted soldiers, NCOs, and officers. The readiness battalion of JPR is most likely currently not ideal for high-intensity warfare, but it certainly provide a baseline for how a Finnish standing unit could be created without breaking the bank.

Note here that I am not arguing for trashing the conscript system or other similar complete overhauls. It is notable that of the Norwegian battalions two out of three are manned by conscripts, while two out of three Swedish battalions would also need mobilisation from part-time soldiers. Finland could well offer a brigade with a single standing battalion and two reserve ones, where in line with the current structure the standing battalion would be made up of conscripts volunteering for an additional six months of service, after which the unit rotate into reserve and takes up the place of one of the two reserve battalions. It is however clear that if the standing battalion is supposed to be able to conduct joint operations within the scope of a multinational brigade, the training for the first six months will have to include high-end international training within that frame of reference.

So that is the current situation, how could this patchwork of units and capabilities, almost all of which are currently in the process of being reformed, be brought together for a functioning division?

To begin with a common divisional HQ is created, which is staffed and up and running already in peacetime, is obviously needed. Exactly where it is located is an open question, though I’d imagine for example either Boden or Rovaniemi could be suitable locations, depending on where there are suitable office spaces without windows. With regards to the three brigades, Brigade Nord will likely fit in more or less as is, especially once the current reforms are finished. While it is unfortunate that the Telemark battalion is deployed so far south, it is also part of the Norwegian Army’s rapid reaction forces (HRS), and as such it should be able to deploy quickly if need be. Neither Sweden nor Finland likely have the budget to keep their whole brigades standing – as unlike Norway their armed forces include several wartime brigades – so the solution is to have at least some units immediately ready. This would include the brigade headquarters and the 191. armoured for NMekB 19 as well as an arctic infantry battalion built around the current JPR readiness unit, with 192. armoured and two Finnish infantry battalions being manned by part-timers/reservists and mobilised if and when need be. While the infantry battalions obviously lack the offensive firepower of their mechanised brethren, infantry certainly has a role to play in the wilderness of the region. However, it needs to be emphasised that even if the infantry units are trained to fight dismounted they will need the mobility (and protection during transports) to be able to keep up with the other brigades. Winter war-nostalgia will only take you as far during modern combat.

To compensate for setting up a lighter (and cheaper) brigade, Finland which is known to sport an impressive number of artillery pieces and whose territory include the largest part of the immediate operating area of the division could be expected to provide a disproportionate number of division level-assets. This includes indirect fires, air defences, engineering, and logistics resources. This obviously would put pressure on the current Finnish force structure, as in essence there would need to be supporting arms for two more brigades than is currently found in the Finnish force structure (which, again, is secret, but it does seem a safe guess that there isn’t surplus artillery and bridging vehicles gathering dust in some warehouse). More K9 Thunder as well as potentially a modern rocket artillery unit would certainly do wonders to aid the artillery situation, and while the wartime needs of the other supporting units is more open, more engineering vehicles (including bridges, it’s a wet region) and air defences are a safe bet. A potential order of battle could in other words look like this.

The main combat units of a hypotethical 6. division. Note that as the Finnish wartime OOB is secret, any unit designations are in place more to give an idea about what the unit might be all about than any real name. Note that there currently is no wheeled heavy rocket launcher in Finnish service, but that hypotethical battery certainly would be a valuable capability (though the other possibility is that the long-range fires will be handled at a higher level). A good argument can be made that it is the Swedes who will bring that with their newfound interest for rockets, but as I noted they already bring bring three heavy battalions so it might be more appropriate that Finland brings the divisional artillery, and it certainly could be that it already is found in the Finnish long-term plan. The Swedes are kind enough to write out the air defence company in their open-source brigade structure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if organic air defence fires show up in other units in the diagram above as well. I also stuck to the mechanised symbol for NMekB 19, despite there being a good case for it in fact being an armoured brigade. The equipment of 193. is unclear, but might be only CV 90 as illustrated here. Note that engineering, recce, and logistics units are not visible in the picture.
A Swedish CV 9040 and a Finnish Leopard 2A4 from a temporary mixed unit during Cold Response 22. A sign of things to come? Source: David Carr/Försvarsmakten

While this is all largely a thought experiment spun from an interesting Twitter-discussion, I do feel it is a valuable and (very hands-on) example of what it actually means that our defence planning will no longer be just about ourselves. It also highlights the fact that while the current general ways of operating are expected to remain in place, even the “small” adjustments needed will cost money or alternatively pull units and capabilities from other places in the wartime force structure, in both cases leading to tough choices. If the upcoming changes for the FDF in the North takes the form of 6. division or something else is another question, but don’t be surprised if the NATO structure plans suddenly start calling for a more fixed structure when it comes to how the northern flank is supposed to be defended.

4 thoughts on “6. Division to the defence of the common North

  1. EMK

    Since Turkey turned out to be a pain in the ass regarding the NATO membership, maybe we (swe-fin) should start talking about more outlandish ideas as well. If the dragging goes on for many months, maybe we could (should?):

    1. establish a formal defense alliance ASAP and
    2. announce that since our NATO membership seems uncertain in the foreseeable future, we may have to ensure our continued security by developing our own nuclear capability.

    Maybe that would put some pressure to other NATO members to deal with Turkish dictator and his outrageous demands of handing over people without a proper trial. A rule-of-law based nation(s) should turn down such demands without discussion anyway. Just saying.

    1. Reeveli

      1) NATO ascension has the benefit that both countries already know and accept what they are getting into. Any bilateral Fin-Swe military alliance would have to be constructed from scratch, legally speaking. I don’t see how the political process in both countries would be any faster than going through the NATO ascension process.

      Also announcing such an alliance could undermine both countries NATO applications. If it is perceived that Fin-Swe are only in it for themselves and not for the wider Euro-Atlantic cooperation it will only make US et. al. even less enthusiast to help with Türkiye.

      Finally Fin-Swe alliance can never be a 100% substitution for NATO, the nuclar umbrella being one of the main reason for this.

      2) There is no public support for nuclear weapons in either country. Pursuing them would be extremely counterproductive for anyone actually pushing for a Fin-Swe alliance. Secondly nuclear program would not be cheap, eating funds from conventional defense (or from somewhere else). Finally both Fin/Swe cannot legally pursue such a course since they are part of nuclear non-proliferation treaties. This comes back to the lack political support for nukes among.

      3) Ignoring all of Türkiye’s demands as ‘outrageous’ is neither constructive, in the spirit of NATO or fair. Sharing border with Iran, Iraq and Syria is not a position any other NATO alliance member would like to be in. This unfortunate geographic reality creates its own security challenges, much like bordering Russia. It would be in the benefit of the entire alliance if NATO could demonstrate it can also combat persistent instability and terrorism risks, à la Türkiye’s position, as other member states might face similar challenges in the future as well. Citizen extraditions is such a weird hill to fight and die on I don’t believe that is of real concern to Türkiye. The real issues are elsewhere in my opinion, as I’ve implied above.

  2. EMK

    1) Did you read my post at all? If we’ll be accepted to NATO we don’t need, obviously, anything
    above and beyond that. But if Turkey blocks us, or if the unclear situation just continues without a resolution in sight… well, then we need, obviously IMO, a plan B.

    2) Some time ago there were no public support for NATO membership either. Public opinion can change. But that’s also besides the point of my earlier post. We should not limit our options, but leave everything on the table and discuss about it. The nuclear capability might be a bit of a stretch, I’ll give you that, but if we’re not accepted into NATO, that is one logical option we have.

    3) Who said anything about ignoring ALL the demands. Lifting the export ban of weapons is reasonable request IMO. But I talked about the demand for handing over people based on a list given by Turkey. That goes against the core values of our society. We can hand over criminals in certain cases, but not before they have gotten a fair trial. Demanding that we should abandon the rule of law is outrageous.

    Then there is the attitude of the Turkish side. No dictator can come and tell us, well, at least us Finns, what to do – be it Putin or Erdogan. We won’t abandon the core principles of our society. That’s why we’re applying in the first place – to protect our way of life and our values. If joining requires abandoning those values, we won’t be come members. And that’s that.

  3. Patrik "BP" Andersson

    “(also note the inability of the Swedish Armed Forces to decide upon a single way of writing numbers before units, causing headaches to innocent bloggers).”

    Generally speaking, the peace time- and tradition carrying units goes by type and then identification number, like Norrlandsmekaniserad Brigad 19, while the operational field units had counting numbers and unit size like the 221th brigade (221. brigad).

    Stridsvagn 122 and Leo2A5 are forked developments, that both stem from the Leopard 2 Improved and are contemporary, but not the same as among other things armour layout and battle systems differ between them.

    Generally speaking, I prefer as few standing soldiers in the organisation as possible in favour of least section- and platoon leaders and upwards. Reason is simple, you can easily get competent conscript soldiers within a year of training, but what makes it hard to scale up is the lack of higher levels, as it takes about ten years to school a competent brigade commander from scratch.
    Perhaps it would be possible to coordinate the conscript intake between Finland and Sweden to ensure there is always least half trained soldiers always available?

    Boden, while greatly diminished from the glory days as Sweden’s most militarized city, still have more than just I 19, there is also one of the two artillery regiments (A8/A9) with the Archer system and the subarctic Jägarna.

    Organic anti-air is sorely lacking, as the RBS 70 is only part of the wartime organisation and hasn’t been used in the peacetime IO14 (which had none) for decades. It will eventually be replaced with the RBS98, but that will take time as LV 6 are the only with competence to train the future educators.

    1) As long as it is clear that NATO-obligations takes precedence over a Finnish-Swedish pact, it will not be any hindrance for the acceptance procedure now stalled by Turkey. Being neighbour with Russia, such a pact would be fully understood as a stop-gap measure (though I personally wouldn’t mind a wider pact, possibly including Ukraine after the war ended, as an alternative to NATO membership. I am not convinced of USA’s resolve to support Europe should for instance Trump be back, or their attention be drawn to the Pacific due to China or North Korea doing funny stuff) pending the situation with Turkey being resolved.

    2) Nuclear weapons is fully possible, we have the knowledge, tools and materials needed for both the bombs and the delivery systems. The only thing lacking is the political will, which largely depends on the public opinion….and can change rapidly should Turkey force a withdrawal of the Swedish application. An alternative would be convincing France to be the formal owners who station them here, thus avoiding both breaking the international treaty as well as showing Kremlin independence of Washington.

    3) Back-stabbing YDP after them, as close allies to the west, taking care of most of Daesh/IS is simply out of the question. Erdogan on top of that using the Gülen-movement as scapegoat to invoke close to dictatorship makes any extradition impossible from a country that can’t even get rid of extremist imams that the security police classified as a risk to the national security and their deportation ruled in court of law.

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